Examination Question : Foundations of Higher Education


edited 1/13/20

Explain the major themes in rationalism and empiricism as these have developed in Western thought.

It is often asserted that these two epistemological theories imply radically divergent educational practices.

Discuss what you believe to be the most significant implications of these respective theories for education.

Are there good reasons for preferring one approach to the other?

Original Trial Response

Evaluator Comments


(Minor misstatements in this part of your essay set the wrong tone.)

Rationalism and empiricism are the two theories

Why have you changed themes to theories? They don't mean the same. There are different Rationalist (or Empiricist) theories. The theme (Rationalism) is common, but the theories are different.

that make up the Epistemology body of philosophy.

Epistemology (not epistemology body of philosophy) can be conceived as broader than just Rationalism and Empiricism, so they don't make it up.

The study of knowledge is grounded in Western thought that is based on Judeo-Christian beliefs.

This thought has been adopted into some versions of Judeo-Christian theology. It is not based on it. It comes from ancient Greek sources.

These theories are key components in the

Major components, perhaps, not key components.

development of past and present theories of education.

Wordy and distracting. What other theories are there? Future theories?

To know when it is appropriate to use rationalism or empiricism in an educational setting, one should understand the meaning of each theory

You're not being asked about when it is appropriate, but when it is preferable, and most importantly, why.

in order to develop the appropriate educational practices

Again, appropriateness is not the issue.

necessary to meet the targeted population's educational goals and objectives.

This seems to be a basis for choosing between them? It that what you intend?

Key components of each theory will be discussed, such as why they both work and when one theory might work better than the other.

Why they work is not what you're being asked for. This might take you off track.


So far you could have skipped everything preceding, avoiding minor errors. You have still to address the questions.


Philosophers such as Socrates and Plato established the foundation for rationalism. One who practices rationalism

One does not practice rationalism, rather one is a Rationalist.

believes that knowledge is innate. The knowledge has to be pulled out of one by using active inquiry.

Too narrow. Only some Rationalists, Chomsky, for example, believe some kinds of knowledge are innate. Basically, Rationalists believe Knowledge is acquired by some means other than through the senses, which is what Empiricists believe.

Socrates would force his students to use

Not force, invite.

the Socratic dialogue education method to force students to ask questions and to probe for answers from teachers and fellow students.

This makes it sound like he wrote a technical manual.

The students are empowered to determine what is true or false.

Do you mean, expected, permitted? Don't lapse into anachronism, time inappropriateness-- here, modern terminology projected into the past-- to explain this.

This action forced the students to engage in dialogue to distinguish what is true or false.

Which action? You better be clear on this since you refer to it again below.

Often an educator uses this action to help students engage in conversation that promotes learning of the whole group.

Does that make it Rationalist? How about if they are practicing a play by repeating the lines of a conversation?

Socrates would create a controlled environment

Another anachronism

that encouraged the students question others to pull out what is true or false by using innate knowledge.

Socrates is not choosing to use innate knowledge rather than something else. For him, nothing is knowledge if it comes through the senses.


Why stick with Socrates and try to force modern concepts on him. ?You should use more modern theorists or theories,  for example, Chomsky or Piaget  as Rationalist, or Skinner or Outcomes Based Education as Empiricist, to explain the distinction.


In addition, I don't know how important this question is for the higher ed curriculum.

One might not know that he or she has this knowledge. The educator is also responsible for mentoring and coaching the student so one can apply the process to pull out information and apply it.

How is this leading to answers to Discuss what you believe to be the most significant implications of these respective theories for education.

Are there good reasons for preferring one approach to the other?

Plato was a former student of Socrates. He took Socrates philosophy and added theories for how to determine what is true and what is false. Plato used ideas and forms to help his students understand processes for investigating what is true and what is false.  He also documented his findings. Students and philosophers used Plato's documentation to establish a foundation for learning how to pull out what one knows.

Is what you mean that he wrote a book?  This is another anachronism. It puts into misleadkingly modern idiom a not astonishing event.

The educational process included evaluating one's findings. As a result of the evaluation, one could determine what is true or false and use this information to increase one's knowledge.

Findings are empirical results.  The language of findings in not appropriate here.

Later during the Medieval period philosophers determined that education could not be based solely on the idea of innate knowledge.

Does this contradict what you said above about Rationalism being based on innate knowledge?

The new Philosophers (Decartes, Leibnitz, Spinoza) centered in rationalist beliefs removed religion from the theory. Descartes focused on using deductive reasoning to find the truth. He also used mathematics and science to conduct inquiries to prove what is true or false. The students were taught to use logic, science and math to prove what is right or wrong. They used deductive reasoning to dissect the problem in to smaller pieces to determine what is true or false. Deductive reasoning could be used to validate a mathematical problem, such as 2 + 2 = 4.  Problems tied to logic could be analyzed using deductive reasoning. 

True. But is it answering the question?

If a student needs to develop expert judgment,deductive reasoning might not provide one with the knowledge needed to identify what is true or false. 

But then again it might.

There could also be more than one correct answer. The rationalism theory does not support using multiple approaches to solve a problem that requires expert judgment. This judgment is generally acquired through learning by doing.

I would be inclined to say this is false, if I were clear as to what you meant.


Have you gotten closer to the answer?

Thus the rationalism theory does not support validating alternative approaches to determine what is true.

This is either false or confused.

For example, one completed the education requirements in to join the project management profession. However, one does not have the experience needed to develop professional expert judgment in order to successfully meet the goals and objectives. According to philosophers grounded in empiricism theory, expert judgment is derived from one's experience. In other words, one must explore and have hands-on experience to find the truth. There could also be multiple solutions for the same problem, and this is no t supported in rationalist theory

Does this get closer to the answer?


The rationalist theory does not support multiple solutions for the same problem


Expert judgment is necessary in education because in some instances there are multiple solutions for the same problem.  Innate knowledge and deductive reasoning does not give a person the depth of knowledge to apply what he or she has learned.

I doubt this is true. In any case it requires additional argument. You do not need to say this. It is not getting you closer to your answer.

British philosophers (Locke, Berkley, Hume) developed the empiricism theory. Locke believed that we are all born with a blank slate.

In fact, one might cite Aristotle as having strong Empiricist commitments.

Empiricists' philosophers believed that we use our own experiences to learn

No. They believe knowledge was obtained through the senses -- as well as in other ways.

This is also known as learning by doing.

Certainly learning by doing, as unclear as this characterization is, involves some empiricist theory.  But it is not the same as an empirical  epistemology.

However, pure empiricism does not provide the student with an education model that teaches one how to draw from his or her experiences to facilitate learning. This helps the student to develop expert judgment in order to identify the appropriate solution(s).  Inductive reasoning is a key component of empiricism, and it is used to solve problems. The student is educated in how to look at the holistic problem to drilldown to the best solution(s).

Again, this introduces inaccuracies without getting you closer to addressing the main questions.

Empiricism is also the foundation for education theories that focused on the students using their experience to apply the knowledge to develop expert judgment.

Kant had a notion of experience that was not an empiricist conception.

Philosopher James Dewey was a pragmatist and progressive leader in the foundations of adult education

Do you mean John Dewey?

. His education processes and theories are still used today. Dewey believed a functionalist is responsible for creating a learning centered environment that meets the student's needs. The functionalist is also responsible for motivating the student and encouraging one to become a self-directed learner.

Is a functionalist a rationalist or an empiricist? How does this bear on the answer?

Malcolm Knowles is another educational leader that used experiential learning to create an environment that promoted learning from one's own experience.

Is Knowles conception of experience an Empiricist one?

Carl Rogers expanded on Knowles and Dewey's educational models.

Unless my chronology is off, I think you will find that Rogers published before Knowles.

He believed that once the education foundation is established, the teacher assumes the role of the facilitator. He or she is responsible for creating an environment that allows the student to have the appropriate experiences so that one learns by doing.


Dewy, Knowles, and Rogers agreed that educators or responsible for motivating the student. They also agreed that education programs must be tailored to meet the student's individual needs and promote self-directed learning. The educator is responsible for creating an environment that empowers the student to use their experiences to learn by doing.

Dewey. You have assumed that somehow this is relevant to the Empiricist/Rationalist distinction.

Application and education practice

Maybe you should chop the preceding and start here.

Educators must know when to apply the appropriate education models that are grounded in rationalism or empiricism epistemological theories. To be an effective educator, one must motivate the students and create an environment that promotes learning.

This is more lead-in material. It doesn't say much that bears on the questions. Besides, this is what Dewey thought a scientific pedagogy should do.

There at least two powerful educational models that are the foundation for education. The pedagogical educational model is the oldest, and it predominantly supports rationalist thinking. In the constructs of this model, the teacher is responsible for motivating and leading the students in a process to determine what is true or false.  The students are members of a group, and the teacher is responsible for pulling out what they already know. Education models that are aligned with rationalist theory are often used to teach subjects, such as history, art, mathematics, and science. The students use deductive reasoning to validate their answers. The pedagogical education model is often used in delivering elementary educational programs using a step-by-step approach.

Finally, you are getting somewhere toward addressing the questions.

A key limitation of the pedagogical education model is that it does not accommodate the diverse needs of the growing population of adult learners.

Says who? You had better cite someone because this is a bald assertion of questionable truth. This is a misconception of pedagogy.

The andragogical adult education model was developed to predominantly support the needs of the adult learners.

If you are including Dewey as a  developer of adult education  in contrast to the education of children, this is false. He makes no distinction between teaching as a process for children and teaching as a process for adults.

The model is aligned with empiricist thinking. Dewey, Knowles, and Rogers were some of the pioneers that developed the adult education model. This model is still used today.

Knowles and Rogers might be characterized this way. It is a mischaracterization of Dewey.

Adults learn from their own experiences,

And children don't?

and the teacher takes on the role facilitator to support the students in learning from his or her experiences to develop one's expert judgment. This educational model is often used for education programs, such as nursing, project management, law, and others that require one to have a combination of education and professional experience. During the educational process, the student is empowered to use one's experiences to solve problems. The results of the inductive inquiry may produce multiple solutions for the same problem.

This is not infrequently done with children. Dewey certainly push for this kind of education for everyone.

A critical divergent


between the rationalist and empiricism theories does exist.

That has been assumed from the beginning.

Educational models that include components of the rationalist theory instructs the student to use deductive reasoning to derive at single correct answer know as the truth. Educational models containing empiricism theory support the educator in creating an environment that allows the student to develop expert judgment by using one's experiences to learn by doing. When the student uses inductive reasoning, he or she could generate more than one correct answer also known as the solution.

The use of judgment is not precluded by Rationalism.

Empiricists as well as Rationalists use deduction. Their argument is about the source of knowledge, not the use of it.

Your theory is probably false or nonsense but at least it addresses the question. That might warrant a pass on the exam quite independently of whether it was true or false.


            Pedagogical and andragogical education models are grounded in rationalist and empiricism epistemological theories. The pedagogical model is tied to the rationalist theory, and the andragogical theory is linked to the empiricist theory.  To meet the student's educational needs, the educator needs to know how to pull out what one already knows in order to assist the student in learning from experience. The educator needs to be able to distinguish when to use one are a combination of theories to create the appropriate learning centered environment.  The educator is responsible for making these decisions based on the need of the targeted student population and the subject matter content. Often the rationalist and empiricism theories are used to develop a customize solution. The rationalist theory supports the educator in pulling out information that the student already knows. The Empiricism theory enables the educator to help the student to use that one's experience to learn by doing to develop expert judgment. Frequently the selected education model must be grounded in both rationalism and empiricism theories to be successful learning for the whole person.

Unfortunately, andragogical theory, though apparently acceptable is some circles, is historically and philosophically inaccurate. It very certainly misrepresents Dewey and caricatures pedagogy.

This might not be held against you -- I would hope -- in your exam response.

But I have a suggestion. Pick a different question to answer.

Final Judgment: Too long getting to the point. Lots of additional off-target material that predisposes a reader negatively. Besides, you would likely not get all this written in the time slot. Finally, there are enough errors in fact and theory to probably provoke a failing grade.