Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

October 21, 2008

Lessons from Locke and Rousseau

Filed under: Responses,Week 7 — Lisa M Lane @ 9:49 pm

I noted with interest the list shared with us this week of the many models of instructional design. Being a historian, I naturally clicked the history links first: A Hypertext History of Instructional Design by Sara McNeil, and A Brief History of Instructional Design by Douglas Leigh. The former began in 1870, and thus was of little use. Leigh, however, at least mentioned Greek philosophers (albeit out of order), Aquinas, and Locke:

The early contributions of thinkers such as Aristotle, Socrates and Plato regarding the cognitive basis of learning and memory was later expanded by the 13th century philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas who discussed the perception of teachings in terms of free will. Four hundred years later, John Locke advanced Aristotle’s notion of human’s initial state of mental blankness by proposing that almost all reason and knowledge must be gained from experience.

He then jumped to Dewey.

While I am not a historian of instructional design, this seemed brief and uninformed considering our emphasis on connectivism and this week’s topic. Even to the layman, it should be apparent that not mentioning Rousseau is doing a disservice to students in this course.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau vehemently disagreed with Locke’s theories on learning. Locke (1632-1704) had not only proposed that children come into this world tabula rosa, but that they are taught through reason and argumentation. Rousseau wrote that nature provided all the motivation and material a person needs, and that the role of the teacher was simply to provide appropriate experiences.

Each, of course, considered education to be important to creating a productive and participatory citizenry. We have these same goals today. In Locke’s view, those citizens were highly individualistic, where the government’s job was to preserve life, liberty and property. People were inherently rational, and religion would instill whatever ethical training was needed: “Teach him to get a mastery over his inclinations, and submit his appetite to reason.” Rousseau’s goal was a more egalitarian, participatory society, whose general will determined government. He distrusted reason. It was in the nature of people to learn, and “civilization” ruined natural proclivities: “Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the author of things, everything degenerates in the hands of man.”

I have created a chart of Locke’s and Rousseau’s Instructional Design ideas. There are good ideas here whose implementation has been interrupted by the advent of industrialized education, which I consider to be the real culprit in poor instructional design. The perceived necessity of educating the multitudes, and the rise of mandatory education in the West, has created our current system of classrooms, divided by grade/age instead of learning from older and younger students. There are vestiges of the elitist systems of education, as in the use of the word “tutor” in English universities. Although open access to education has become the hallmark of democracy, the elitists had one thing right: the tutorial form of education (as opposed to group education) had a great deal to recommend it. It’s mass education that has caused rote learning, lack of differentiantion, standardized assessments. In many ways the theories of connectivist learning are designed as a tutorial system without a tutor, an effort for the individual to make connections through exploration (Rousseau) and develop rational understandings (Locke). In designing instruction, then, it might be useful to jump back to an era before industrialized education and examine the existing models.



  1. Hi Lisa,

    Great post and thanks a bunch for the table you created. This is one area I’ve got virtually no experience or knowledge in, so your post is a great introduction there. Hopefully once I’ve read through the table I’ll be able to contribute something useful 🙂



    Comment by Mike Bogle — October 21, 2008 @ 10:10 pm

  2. […] mentioned Rousseau and put together a very nice chart comparing his and Locke’s approach to education.  The bit […]

    Pingback by CCK08 - Musings on Instructional Design « An Education and Technology Blog — October 22, 2008 @ 7:22 pm

  3. Lisa

    If we do not learn the lessons of history…

    I enjoyed your revisiting of Locke and Rousseau. Your chart prompted me to think about George’s presentation in Week 7. Given the approach that narrates history in the present tense, Locke is living at a time when… and Rousseau some years later is… I believe context becomes very important.

    I wonder if teaching post the financial crisis 2008 will lead to a re-valuing of the person as a moral agent (however old that person might be). I read Locke in terms of his ‘social contract’ approaches. I am excited that CCK08 is encouraging us to think (and possibly redefine) what that contract is within education.


    Comment by Keith Lyons — October 22, 2008 @ 8:40 pm

  4. […] me to Tom Whyte’s post about course design and I was delighted to watch his video link. Lisa resurrected some more dead people this week and sent me scurrying for my copy of Locke and my […]

    Pingback by CCK08: Coming to Know « Clyde Street — October 23, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

  5. Thanks Lisa – this one is bookmarked 😉
    Reading this made me wonder how it ties in with the ‘discovery’ of childhood. I remember reading that before a certain time (Rousseau?), children were regarded as miniature adults – as can be seen in family portraits. I read Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen and it was striking to see how little connection moderately wealthy families had with under-5s, often farming them out till it was safe to assume they would survive.
    Glad to see you mention industrialisation. The development of ID methodologies is parallel to Structured approaches to computer systems analysis and design – nice idea in theory that has brought us many poor computer systems.

    Comment by Frances Bell — October 25, 2008 @ 10:13 am

  6. Frances, you might be interested in Lawrence Stone’s The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (1983). It details the transfer of feelings about children being disposable to being cherished, and seems to mark a “discovery of childhood”. It started a trend among historians, who began to read more primary sources and discovered that children were never disposable or ignored, just that prescriptive writings said they should be due to the high mortality rates.

    There is also a lot of new research on the history of children and childhood. The farming out, which certainly took place during Rousseau’s time, often was for reasons of health: wealthy families in crowded cities felt the children would grow better in touch with nature and fed wholesome country food, so they sent them to wet-nurses in the country. I find it interesting how another “little adults” era, the late 19th century, coincided with the status of having multiple bedrooms in the home, thus separating the children from the parents.

    Comment by Lisa — October 25, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

  7. Is Rousseau more of a prototypical connectivist than Locke, on your reading? That table is fabulous.

    Of course, the industrialization serves very real political purposes, so our attempts to counter its more pernicious effects also take on a political caste. The French system, developed under Napoleon and perfected under the Third Republic’s Jules Ferry, Ferdinand Buisson, and, of course, Émile Durkheim, insisted on regimentation and rote learning, absolute standardization, for the purpose of producing docile republican citizens. Sadly, the French model has been exported and emulated widely in later industrializing countries of the Mediterranean region, sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond. The Anglo-Saxon world’s traditions are more chaotic – and elitist – but the rationalizaing, nationalizing, homogenizing impulse is still very much present.

    I can sympathize somewhat with Stephen Downes’ apparent fervor for connectivist learning’s liberational potential, given these background conditions. I am simply not (yet) convinced that the potential is as powerful as he appears to wish/believe.

    Comment by Ed Webb — October 26, 2008 @ 4:42 am

  8. […] (iii) encouraging the development of individual potential (which, in turn, perhaps correspond to Lisa’s “industrialized education”, Locke, and […]

    Pingback by x28’s new Blog » Blog Archive » CCK08 Paper #3 Opportunities and Resistance — November 15, 2008 @ 9:17 am

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