Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science

, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 456–476 | Cite as

Magic Learning Pill: Ontological and Instrumental Learning in Order to Speed Up Education

  • Eugene MatusovEmail author
  • Daniella Baker
  • Yueyue Fan
  • Hye Jung Choi
  • Robert L. Hampel
Regular Article


The purpose of this research is to investigate the phenomenology of learning — people”s attitudes toward their learning experiences that have inherent worth in themselves (i.e., ontological learning) or have value outside of the learning itself (i.e., instrumental learning). In order to explore this topic, 58 participants from the U.S., Russia, and Brazil were interviewed with a central question derived from the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s short story “Profession”: whether participants would take a “Magic Learning Pill” (MLP) to avoid the process of learning, and instead magically acquire the knowledge. The MLP would guarantee the immediate learning by skipping the process of learning while achieving the same effect of gaining skills and knowledge. Almost all participants could think of some learning experiences for which they would take MLP and others for which they would not. Many participants would not take MLP for ontological learning, which is learning experiences that have inherent value for the people, while they would take MLP for instrumental learning, which is learning that mainly serves some other non-educational purposes. The main finding suggests that both instrumental and ontological types of learning are recognized by a wide range of people from diverse cultures as present and valued in their lives. This is especially significant in light of the overwhelmingly instrumental tone of public discourse about education. In the context of formal education, ontological learning was mentioned 35 times (28.0%) while instrumental learning was mentioned 74 times (60.2%). Although ontological learning was often mentioned as taking place outside of school, incorporating pedagogy supporting ontological learning at school deserves consideration.


Instrumental learning Ontological learning Phenomenology Spheres of education 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DelawareNewarkUSA
  2. 2.Tread Light TravelsSan GeronimoUSA

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