Inductive Reasoning…. How About Inductive Education?

Qualitative researchers are among the thinkers who practice inductive reasoning. They investigate questions, gather experience, immerse themselves in their data which captures the part of the world that holds their interest. From their data, they identify generalizations that appear to be supported by their data and they seek to apply those generalizations to other situations. 

Induction is the word we use to capture the “context first” part of the work. We get lost in the details first, then identify general rules (which we deeply understand) to other problems. 

Educators, it seems, could learn about approaching and solving problems by modeling their approaches to courses and programs after indictive reasoning.  

Consider the typical organization of the curriculum: Teachers introduce “the basics” first. We show students general strategies for solving problems and we expect them to learn them outside of context. “Once they ‘understand’ those basics,” educators reason, “students are prepared to apply them.” The problem with this rationale is that students do not demonstrate the ability to transfer what they learn in one “place” to others. (That is why I added the quotation marks   to educators’ reasoning; if our students cannot apply what they have learned then we are not justified in concluding they understand it.) 

When designing programs, we identify the prerequisites necessary for students. Often, these are in the form of basic mathematics and language courses. Now, I understand the need to ensure students are capable of “college level” or “high school level” (or whatever level) courses, but I am convinced that these can be a barrier to many students. 

The pathway for the students who enters courses or programs proceeds into the gateway skills or courses, then into the interesting content, and then to completion. The gateways are one-way. 

Pathway #1: Students complete gateway course before high-interest courses

I am convinced educators have this wrong. By jumping over the gateway courses (or at least a few of them), and opening the gateways to those passing through either direction, we are may be leaving them better prepared to understand those gateways skills and complete their programs.

Pathways #2: Students complete high-interest courses first


Consider the student who arrives with a history of being a weak writer. If that person is directed into a writing course before taking any courses in their major, then they are beginning from a position of weakness. They are unlikely to find success in a course they have not found success previously, and they are taking courses outside of their interests (and we know interest is associated with academic success), and they are unlikely to learn skills they can transfer into high interest courses. If the same student takes some courses in high interest areas before the general writing course, they are likely to have been writing in those courses—they have practiced their writing in areas of interest—they have gained experience and expertise (which they can bring to their general writing course). 

I understand the reasons why we organize our curriculum the way we do… some of those decisions are sound… some are not. I am convinced context and interest are a more effective pathway to learning than academic skills. Just as the researcher using indictive reasoning explores he world, then generalized, I am convinced the effective teacher helps students explore the world, then helps them generalize.