Skip to main content

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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. Although learning can be optimized in many different ways, in our observation on the literature and research in press by the fifth author, it is often referred to or aimed at shortening the time spent on learning (Hampel 2018, forthcoming).

  2. In their notion of self-determined motivation Deci and his colleagues define 4 phases of extrinsic motivation that progressively lead to autonomous self-determination of instrumental learning. For example, this is how they defined “identified regulation by personal importance” (the phase 3), “An example of an identified regulatory process might be students who prepare very hard for the college entrance examination because going to college is personally important to them. These students study hard because doing well is instrumental for an important self-selected goal. The behavior is extrinsically motivated because it is instrumental, but it is relatively autonomous-because of the person”s having identified with its value and regulation” (Rigby et al. 1992, p. 170).

  3. Packer and Goicoechea define ontology as “the consideration of being: what is, what exists, what it means for something— or somebody—to be” (p. 227). Ontological learning is driven by intrinsic motivation (Ryan and Deci 1996), although intrinsic motivation alone is not enough as a learner seems to have to place additional value on the experiences driven by intrinsic motivation.

  4. When the education information is missing, the research participant chose not to provide the current level of education (mostly in Brazil).

  5. In the brackets, there are abbreviated questions by an interviewer.

References

  • Arendt, H. (1958). The human condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Asimov, I. (1959). Profession. In I. Asimov (Ed.), Nine tomorrows: Tales of the near future ([1st ed., pp. 17–74). Garden City: Doubleday.

  • Bennett, W. J., Finn, C. E., & Cribb, J. T. E. (1999). The educated child: a parent's guide from preschool through eighth grade. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry & research design: choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dewey, J. (1997). Democracy and education: an introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eilif, D. (2004). Magic learning pill: The desire for speed and its effects on education. Bachelor of arts in educational studies with distinction. Newark: University of Delaware.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co..

    Google Scholar 

  • Gorz, A. (1989). Critique of economic reason. London: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  • Green, A., Preston, J., & Janmaat, J. G. (2006). Education, equality and social cohesion: Palgrave Macmillan Basingstoke.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Greenberg, D. (1992). The birth of a new paradigm for education. Retrieved from http://www.sudval.com/05_underlyingideas.html#05.

  • Hampel, L. R. (2018, forthcoming). A history of shortcuts in American education. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

  • Kaku, M. (2011). Physics of the future: how science will shape human destiny and our daily lives by the year 2100 (1st ed.). New York: Doubleday.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kumar, M. (2008). Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the great debate about the nature of reality. Thriplow: Icon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Labaree, D. F. (1997). How to succeed in school without really learning: the credentials race in American education. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Labaree, D. F. (2010). Someone has to fail: the zero-sum game of public schooling. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Larkin, M. J. (2002). Using scaffolded instruction to optimize learning. ERIC clearinghouse on disabilities and gifted education Arlington, VA.

  • Lave, J. (1992, April). Learning as participation in communities of practice. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Retrieved fromhttp://www.udel.edu/educ/whitson/897s05/files/Lave92.htm.

  • Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370–396. doi:10.1037/h0054346.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Matusov, E., Sullivan, P. (2017, in preparation). Pedagogical violence. Dialogic Pedagogy: An International Online Journal.

  • Matusov, E., von Duyke, K., & Han, S. (2012). Community of Learners: ontological and non-ontological projects. Outlines: Critical Social Studies, 14(1), 41–72.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mitra, S. (2013). Build a school in the cloud. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.

  • Moustakas, C. E. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Packer, M. J., & Goicoechea, J. (2000). Sociocultural and constructivist theories of learning: ontology, not just epistemology. Educational Psychologist, 35(4), 227–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pink, D. H. (2005). A whole new mind: moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York: Riverhead Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ramey, C. T., & Ramey, S. L. (2004). Early learning and school readiness: can early intervention make a difference? Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 50(4), 471–491.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rigby, C. S., Deci, E. L., Patrick, B. C., & Ryan, R. M. (1992). Beyond the intrinsic-extrinsic dichotomy: self-determination in motivation and learning. Motivation and Emotion, 16(3), 165–185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (1996). When paradigms clash: comments on Cameron and Pierce's claim that rewards do not undermine intrinsic motivation. Review of Educational Research, 66(1), 33–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tadepalli, P., & Natarajan, B. K. (1996). A formal framework for speedup learning from problems and solutions. Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, 4, 445–475.

  • van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Albany: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhao, Y. (2009). Catching up or leading the way: American education in the age of globalization. Alexandria: ASCD.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eugene Matusov.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Matusov, E., Baker, D., Fan, Y. et al. Magic Learning Pill: Ontological and Instrumental Learning in Order to Speed Up Education. Integr. psych. behav. 51, 456–476 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-017-9384-8

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-017-9384-8

Keywords

  • Instrumental learning
  • Ontological learning
  • Phenomenology
  • Spheres of education