Pragmatism: Overview & Practical Teaching Examples

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  • 0:01 Pragmatism
  • 0:50 Practical Learning
  • 2:21 Experiential Learning
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

There are many different ways to approach education. Watch this lesson to find out about one of them, pragmatism, and the way that it combines practical and experiential learning to offer students a chance to grow and learn.


Sally is a new teacher, and she's stressed out. She wants to make her lessons as good as possible, and to reach as many students as possible, but she's not sure how to do that. Add on top of that the fact that she's supposed to teach all sorts of information that seems completely useless in the real world, and she is worried that her students will leave her class having not gotten anything out of it.

Pragmatism is an educational philosophy that says that education should be about life and growth. That is, teachers should be teaching students things that are practical for life and encourage them to grow into better people. Many famous educators, including John Dewey, were pragmatists.

Let's look closer at how Sally can apply the basic principles of pragmatism to her lesson planning.

Practical Learning

Okay, Sally understands that education should be practical. But what, exactly, does that mean? And how will it look in her classroom?

The idea of practical learning is that education should apply to the real world. For example, if Sally is teaching students who live in an urban area, there might not be much practical application for them to learn about agricultural science. Or, if she's teaching at a school for children of farmers, there might be little need for her to teach art history.

But for the children of farmers, agricultural science is very practical. And for students who will be running museums, art history is important. The point is that Sally will need to know her students and their lives in order to focus her lessons on what is most important.

You might be thinking, 'But Sally has certain things that she has to teach!' And you'd be right. But Sally has some leeway in how to teach them. For example, Sally has to teach the scientific method to her students, but she can choose how to teach that. If she has lots of farming students, she can teach the scientific method with experiments designed to be done with livestock or plants.

On the other hand, if she's teaching students who live in Silicon Valley, where lots of technology companies are, she might want to teach the scientific method with technology. The point is, lessons can be designed to be practical, no matter what the students' lives are like.

Experiential Learning

Another key component to pragmatism is experiential learning, which is just a fancy way of saying that education should come through experience. It's the difference in learning ideas versus learning through practice. Experiential learning is all about practice and figuring out how to discover knowledge through experience.

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