Constructivism has been embraced by many in the field of instructional design and technology (IDT), but its advocates have struggled to move beyond theory to practice or to empirically demonstrate the effectiveness of their approach. As an alternative to constructivism, a new perspective emerging in psychology, known as functional contextualism, is presented. Like constructivism, functional contextualism also rejects objectivist epistemology, but provides a much more coherent philosophical basis on which to build an empirical science of learning and instruction. The philosophical worldview known as contextualism is reviewed to outline the similarities and differences between constructivism and functional contextualism, and the key characteristics of functional contextualism and the science it supports, behavior analysis, are described. Implications of functional contextualism for research and practice in IDT are then explored.
Several prominent researchers and theorists in the field of instructional design and technology provided commentary on my article, “Constructing a Pragmatic Science of Learning and Instruction with Functional Contextualism” (Fox, 2005). Some of the important issues raised by those commentaries are addressed briefly in this reply. In particular, further clarification is provided regarding the distinction between theory and philosophy, the relation between functional contextualism and objectivism, the empirical basis and applications of relational frame theory (RFT), and the analytic goals of functional contextualism and instructional design.
The purpose of this study was to compare traditional classification training for a set of abstract concepts with multiple relations training consisting of inference practice and the use of a content diagram. To examine this, 200 undergraduate and graduate psychology students completed a Web-based tutorial covering the abstract concepts of a psychological theory of language and cognition. All participants received the same core instructional content and practice activities varied by experimental condition: some participants received classification training, some received multiple-relations training, some received a combination of both, and some received neither. Performance on a posttest with three subsections was evaluated. Participants who received classification training were significantly better at identifying new instances of the concepts than participants who did not. Neither classification training nor multiple-relations training had a significant effect on ability to identify concept definitions or answer application questions. Implications for the development of instruction for abstract concepts are discussed.