close up photo of water lily flower
Social Science: What difference can a flower make

As I wind up my last semester of course work (“Hallelujah!), we are tasked to answer an overarching and fundamental philosophical question: Is there such a thing as a social “science”?

“Social Science”: The Science of Increased Understanding of Others
What is “social science”?

Well. The most commonly cited (1509 citations) source for a definition is Brian Fay’s (1996)’s Contemporary Philosophy of Social Sciences. At its most simplistic essence, Fay explains social science is the philosophy of “sharing a world in which people differ significantly from one another” (p. 1). Fay asks: “Do you have to be one to know one?” (p. 27), then answers we must distinguish “knowing” form “being” to answer the question. Knowing, as Fay saw it, requires the ability to understand a thing. Being, he says, requires a sameness in mind and experiences. Fay wrote we usually do not know and therefore cannot be others, so we should settle for trying to understand our similarities and differences. After outlining prevailing ontological theories that argue humans are social creatures (Hobbs, 1829; Popper, 1948; van Hayek; 1949), Fay breaks it down to this – we “need others to be ourselves.” His core argument is that our decisions, actions, and attitudes form our subjective expectations regarding what others should be doing or how others should be acting. Then, we get confused when people are not doing or are not acting according to our expectations (Deep.)

Back To the Stories We Tell
Fay goes on to opine, if we are to live together peacefully, we must understand how culture and society both “constrain” our understanding of its members and our “thoughts, feelings, and actions” are based on what we think we understand about others (p. 70). In other words, Fay was saying we not only tell ourselves stories about other people (as we see them), but we think and act according to what those mental stories are telling us. (Homo narrans, remember?) Therefore, Fay explains we misjudge others after our internal realities conflict with the external facts primarily because there is no “One True Picture” of universal truths about others like our stories tell us should exist (p. 219). Because of this, Fay argues there is no such thing as an objective “open-minded, responsive to evidence, accountable, criticism-seeking” person because humans are not singular (p. 221). We co-exist in an interconnected, interdependent world with others and that influence how we think and act. Period. (Ouch.)

Fay’s Philosophies for Social Scientists
Fay wrote social science involves understanding the dynamics of this phenomenon then seeking to understand others within the context of “twelve multicultural philosophies of social science.” I attempted to paraphrase Fay’s twelve contextual philosophies below:

1. Beware the “self v. others” dichotomies by considering the dualities between yourself and others;
2. Consider similarities and differences between yourself and others and accepting that there is no “self-understanding” without “other-understanding”;
3. Instead of trying to overcome differences, lean in and interact without others to gain an understanding of why things are not the same between you;
4. Instead of using fixed identify nouns (“... the …”, “… this …“) to describe groups of people, use “verbs” that denote continuous processes of interactivities and interactions;
5. Avoid assigning “roles” to others you feel they should fulfill as their “social functions” and understand instead that humans apply old rules to new ones to create something different as they “learn, adapt, alter, and create”;
6. Accept that culture and society empower and limit its members and usually form the systems in which members think, live, and interact;
7. Expect “more light” when seeking to understand others different from yourself;
8. Do not attempt to find “clarity, fixity, or order” about others but instead look for ambiguities, ambivalence, and contradictions that may be the source of “stress, resistance, or struggle” between you;
9. Acknowledge that “the past” lives in “the present” and that we self-consciously create “anticipated outcomes” from others which may never come to fruition or even be accurate;
10. Resist the urge to look for “universal, sameness, and repetition” from others because generalizations are too abstract to create general laws by;
11. Understand “neutrality” is outmoded objectivity and social science demands evidence from personal interactions and observations of others that must be interpreted by you, another person; and
12. Engagement is required to attain an understanding of the differences between ourselves and others (p. 214 – 245).

In closing, Fay wrote: “Appreciation, agreement, consensus – none of these is a goal. Interactions and growth are the ends of social science understood from a multicultural perspective.” (Fay, 1996).

Jennie’s Perspectives
Now. Some may think Fay’s “twelve multicultural philosophies of social science” sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo dreamed up by another one of those “kumbaya” snowflakes trying to save the world by giving everybody a flower. Are such lofty goals attainable? Better yet, are they even desirable?

Who am I to say one way or the other?

But, what I will say is that – we do need to learn how to just all get along with each other. Don’t you disagree?

I’m just sayin’ …

Fay, B. (1996). Contemporary philosophy of social science: A multicultural approach (Vol. 1). Oxford: Blackwell.

assorted-color paintbrushes
Trifling: The Refined Art of Rebutting Knowledge with Empty Words

Growing up in beautiful South Oak Cliff, Texas, my siblings and I noticed my mother’s habit of calling people and situations “trifling.” As children, calling something “trifling” behind my mother’s back was guaranteed to get a laugh. We called anything from a slow-moving beetle to a neighbor’s barking dog to the mean lady at the candy counter “trifling.” Yes. We had a lot of fun with that word.

So image my surprise upon learning that little Sunday School teacher that we called “Momma”, who finished high school back in the late 1940s, was expertly applying the core epistemology of John Locke.

Question: What do you do when contentious academic discourse strays down the rabbit hole after a logic debate turns toward entertaining fallacies?

The Epistemology of John Locke
As a reminder, John Locke (1632-1704) was “an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the “Father of Liberalism” (Hischmann, 2009. P., 79). Known as the father of empiricism, Locke (1689) believed that knowledge comes through sensations. He was among the first to argue for a social contract between citizens and religious tolerance. In his most famous work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke expressed theories regarding the origins of human knowledge (“Online Library of Liberty,” n.d.). In Two Treatises of Government (1683), Lock radically argued that political authority comes only from the consent of human’s natural rights and freedoms (Lock, 1683). Outrageously, Locke argued against René Descartes’s innate knowledge theories, the most generally accepted at that time, by writing the human mind is born as a “blank slate.”

However, as mentioned, Locke is my guy now because of his theories regarding how to handle people that use trifling words to refute rational logic and evidence (Locke, 1689).

For instance, Locke’s writings show he had little patience for those that chose to use trifling words as indications of knowledge concerning a subject. As a “woke” man credited with considerable intelligence, logic, and understanding, in his work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Chapter VIII, Of Trifling Propositions, a book written over 330 years ago, Locke strongly advised against suffering fools. I decided to pass his enlightened epistemology along in the hope you will enjoy reading Locke’s work as much as I did.

John Locke: On the Use of Trifling Words
“I leave to be considered. This, I think, may confidently be affirmed, that there are universal propositions, which, though they be certainly true, yet they add no light to our understanding; bring no increase to our knowledge” (“John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” n.d., para. 1) (Humph!).

These obviously and at first blush appear to contain no instruction in them; for when we affirm the said term of itself, whether it be barely verbal, or whether it contains any clear and real idea, it shows us nothing but what we must certainly know before, whether such a proposition be either made by, or proposed to us. Indeed, that most general one, what is, is, may serve sometimes to show a man the absurdity he is guilty of, when, by circumlocution or equivocal terms, he would in particular instances deny the same thing of itself; because nobody will so openly bid defiance to common sense, as to affirm visible and direct contradictions in plain words; or, if he does, a man is excused if he breaks off any further discourse with him. For, at this rate, any very ignorant person, who can but make a proposition, and knows what he means when he says ay or no, may make a million of propositions of whose truth he may be infallibly certain, and yet not know one thing in the world” (“John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” n.d., para. 2.1) (Ha!)

“How identical propositions are trifling. I know there are some who, because identical propositions are self-evident, show a great concern for them, and think they do great service to philosophy by crying them up; as if in them was contained all knowledge, and the understanding were led into all truth by them only. What is this more than trifling with words?” (“John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” n.d., para. 3) (Ouch!)

Okay then.

While Locke’s words about the futility of arguing with people that use trifling words instead of logic might seem harsh, similar words were written by another man credited with great wisdom. Arguably, King Solomon once wrote: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 25:4 New King James Version). (My. My.)

Jennie’s Perspective
If I learn nothing else about academic discourse and the need to address logical fallacies this semester, I would feel I have learned enough.

As a scholar-under-construction, I was elated to learn that my education began long before I entered my doctoral program. I learned that my mother’s warnings against arguing with trifling people and trifling situations holds water.

Like Locke and Solomon before her, my mother told us to tell trifling people and trifling situations what we want them to know then – simply walk away. Proof once again. Ain’t nothing like some good old fashioned home training. (Proverbs 22:6 New King James Version).


Hirschmann, Nancy J., Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2009.

John Locke, The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 1. Retrieved 9/22/2019 from the World Wide Web:

Locke, J. (1894). The philosophical works of John Locke (Vol. 2). George Bell & Sons.

Locke, J. (1821). Two treatises of government.

Online Library of Liberty. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Online Library of Liberty. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Online Library of Liberty. (n.d.). Retrieved from

woman doing yoga meditation on brown parquet flooring
The Dialogical Self: The stories I tell to myself.

Considering I am taking a Theories of Instructional Technology course that requires exploration of the fundamental opinions concerning what makes us think and tick, I am not surprised that we are repeatedly required to explain our theories about ourselves.

Question: Who am I?

The Dialogical Self
Well. The answer is complicated. Typically, our efforts to answer this question begin with us outlining our educational backgrounds, our professional achievements, our relationships, and our views and perspectives regarding our place in this world. But, I now know that such “stories about myself” are ones that I created based on how I feel when the question is answered. Who am I? Really?

Let’s begin with a broad-stroke overview of Dutch psychologist, Hubert Hermans’ (2001) Dialogical Self Theory (DST). Loosely defined, DST proposes that who we are depends upon what we tell ourselves about ourselves (Hermans, 2001) in space and context. (Huh?)

Looked at another way, as homo narrans, or innate storytellers (Bidinotto, 2012), Hermans theorizes we spend our days engaged in multiple conversations with ourselves about ourselves. He wrote that what we say to ourselves about ourselves is based on the time and space we occupy when such discussions take place (p. 249). Hermans’ DST defines who we are falls within context of the internal spaces, times, and circumstances (“I am a mother.” “I am a writer.” “I am a workforce development specialist.”) that we occupy when we talk to ourselves. He also explained that such mental conversations are influenced by our perspectives and positionalities related to our external spaces (“My husband.” “My children.” “My friends.”) as well within the time and space those external factors exist (p. 248).

“I-Positions” and Personal Identify
But wait. Hermans’ DST gets even more complicated. According to Hermans’ DST, the internal and external mental conversations we have with ourselves – about ourselves – create multivoiced I-positions we later use to “agree, disagree, understand, misunderstand, oppose, contradict, question, challenge,” or even “ridicule” ourselves when we talk about who we are within our minds (p. 249). Herman calls these mental negotiations within us our “mind society” (p. 250), or cognitive processing of the multiple conversations we have about ourselves – with ourselves. In addition, considering long-accepted theories that humans are social creatures (Vygotsky, 1978) and that “no man is an island” (Flap, 2002), Hermans’ advises we carefully consider the influences our cultures and social capital networks, or what he called the pluralistic outside world, might play during our internal and external conversations about ourselves. Hermans cautions we later use these conversations to define our personal and self-identities (p. 273) so we should be careful about the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves. Using metaphors, Herman compared the mental processing of our conflicting dialogical multivoiced I-position conversations to the workings within a computer’s communities of neural networks. He explained, similar to a computer’s processing of data, the self-programming we feed our minds computes our self-image narrative outputs (p. 251). Therefore, we are warned we should remain cognizant of the stuff we feed our minds about ourselves because we use this dialogical self-programming to compute our personal identity when we talk about ourselves to others (Hermans, 2001, p. 252).

DST: Ramifications for Educators and Instructional Designers
Now, let’s connect the relevance of Hermans’ DST to my Theories of Instructional Technology class. Later working with Meijers (2017), Hermans and his co-researcher tested the ramifications of his DST in educational environments (Meijers & Hermans, 2017, p. 50). Using transcripts from one study, the researchers documented how employing the DST framework impacted learning during a lesson about the Milky Way and planet positioning. Meijers and Herman observed the teacher give her students space and time to engage in mulitvoiced I-positions group conversations regarding the topic. The researchers found the teacher’s use of the DST approach led to infused multi-cultural-multi-historical conversations among her students that eventually enabled them to gain an enhanced and expanded understanding of the topic and arrive at a collective society of minds consensus about the Milky Way’s planets (p. 53-54). The findings led Meijers & Hermans to suggest DST could play a transformational role in early childhood education (p. 57-60) because the framework encourages a “… new and innovative meaning …” to productive cooperative problem-solving that requires students to “… take into account …” the cultures and societal identities of diverse others “… for the welfare of themselves and society” (p. 60). Because of this foundational empirical study, the researchers to speculate that employing the DST framework in classrooms worldwide might present a possible solution for resolving today’s polarized and divided global society (p. 61).

Jennie’s Perspective
I completed my primary education in the aftermaths of America’s turbulent Civil Rights movement, debatable Viet Nam War involvement, and disruptive early attempts at school desegregation. So, I personally experienced how societal divisions and discord can impact our nation’s students in their classrooms.

But, I was blessed to have been educated by teachers that looked and sounded like me, for the most part, and they guided me through these self-defining social and educational events mentally and academically whole. I was also blessed to be raised within a supportive two-parent household where I got the mind and body food I needed to develop healthy internal and external self-talk. I credit these social and emotional dynamics to the confidence I express when telling people exactly who I think I am. (Humph.)

Loudly. Unapologetically. And without a moment’s hesitation. I can tell my story of “Me!” (Ha!)

But, I cannot help but consider those whose primary and secondary educational journey and cultural and societal environments are so unlike mine. Therefore, as a member of the larger education community and an instructional designer, the questions I ask myself late at night are: What dialogical self-talk are we promoting in our multicultural and diverse classrooms today? Do we make room for students to work collectively and collaborative to develop emotional intelligence and group problem-solving? Do we employ evidence-based frameworks and methodologies, such as DST, to ensure we know how to create safe and inclusive learning spaces for all students? Do we create instructional designs that transition teaching from traditional instructor-led monologic lectures and static learning activities toward dynamic action-oriented experiential learning networked spaces (Demblon & D’Argembeaur, 2017) that help students develop creative positive self-concepts (Karwowski, 2016)?

As I wrote in an earlier post, my mother was a Sunday School teacher. So, I feel compelled to close with this adage: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you” (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV).

So, this final question I direct to all: Are we preparing a society even capable of moving toward world peace?

I pray and hope so. Don’t you?

I’m just sayin …


Bidinotto, R. (2012, August 21). Are We “Homo Narrans”? Retrieved from

Demblon, J., & D’Argembeau, A. (2017). Contribution of past and future self-defining event networks to personal identity. Memory, 25(5), 656-665.

Flap, H. (2002). No man is an island: the research programme of a social capital theory. Conventions and Structures in Economic Organisations: Markets and Hierarchies. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Hermans, H. J. (2001). The dialogical self: Toward a theory of personal and cultural positioning. Culture & psychology, 7(3), 243-281.

Karwowski, M. (2016). The dynamics of creative self-concept: Changes and reciprocal relations between creative self-efficacy and creative personal identity. Creativity Research Journal, 28(1), 99-104.

Meijers, F., & Hermans, H. (Eds.). (2017). The dialogical self theory in education : A multicultural perspective. Retrieved from

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

person driving a vehicle in the middle of the road
Onward Toward Heutagogy and Beyond!

I had to get on my game last week. My learning philosophies’ instructor tasked us with designing a 20-minute technology-based experiential learning activity last week, and I knew I had to be on my game. I knew right away; this would not be easy because this professor is herself a master instructional designer that would take no prisoners.

Question: What is the difference between pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagory?

On Adult Learning Theories
I learned about Merriam’s (2001) seminal theory of androgogy being as the “pillar of adult learning” while earning my master’s degree. Her message is crystal clear: adults learn differently. Therefore, instructional designs targeted toward adult learners must accommodate these assumptions: adults are capable of directing their learning; adults bring a life-time of experiences they leverage while learning; adults are usually seeking improved status when they decided to reenter structured learning environments; adults like to apply what they learn immediately after mastering the knowledge; and adults are self-motivated for reasons they are not obligated to disclose (Merriam, 2001, p. 5).

In my doctoral program, I was pushed from Merriam’s theories of androgogy to Blaschke’s (2012) opinions on heutagogy, as the step past androgyny. Citing work by Kamenetz (2010) and Peters (2001), Blaschke explained a rapidly changing world and Web 2.0 intrusion into education made both pedagogical and andragogical approaches. She feels the elementary principles associated with these two approaches are insufficient to meet the demands of the 21st Century worker. Blaschke illustrated her point by mapping the distance from pedagogical (instructor-led) to androgogical (self-directed and cultivated) to heutagogical (self-determined autonomous) lifelong learners to show the progression of lifelong learner maturation (p. 60).

Synthesized, what these researchers are advising is that instructional designers that aspire to create content for online learning environments should design uniquely for distance learning. In other words, merely dropping existing hardcopy lesson plans and curriculum into online courses will not do. The inference is, regardless as to whether the content and context are for kindergartners or cosmologists, robust learning theories and philosophies must underpin online instructional designs.

Learning Theory-Inspired Instructional Design Strategies
Knowing that my professor already knows this made it clear to me that the “smoke and mirrors” would not do. So, I rolled my shelves up and went to work. I opted for an online multimedia Canvas class that introduced the targeted graduate student learner to the basics about research methods and their characteristics. In addition to the five assumptions of adult learning outlined by Merriam, I decided to throw in a little Habermas’ (2000) theories of learning and teaching as communicative acts (Warren & Wakefiled, 2012; Warren, 2012), with a touch of Gagne’s nine events of instruction (Krause, 2009), then topped the activity off with Mezirow’s (2000) theories on critical reflections.

Jennie’s Perspective
Critically reflecting on creating my technology-based experiential learning activity, I think I did pretty good. Blaschke wrote, “Distance education has a particular affinity to the heutagogical approach, due to distance education’s inherent characteristics of requiring and promoting learner autonomy …” (p. 67). I think my heutagogy-inspired multimedia experiential learning activity met the mark.

But, now I just hope my grade for that assignment grade matches my confidence.



Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(1), 56-71.

Habermas, J. (2000). On the pragmatics of communication. MIT press.

Kruse, K. (2009). Gagne’s nine events of instruction: An introduction. Retrieved the, 10.

Merriam, S. B. (2001). Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning: Pillars of Adult Learning Theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, (89), 3–13. Retrieved from

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 350 Sansome Way, San Francisco, CA 94104.

Warren, E. T. S. J. (2012). Learning and teaching as communicative actions: Social media as educational tool. In using social media effectively in the classroom (pp. 112-128). Routledge.

Warren, S., & Wakefield, J. S. (2011). Learning and teaching as a communicative action.

woman and man sitting in front of monitor
Mirror. Mirror. On the wall, …

I have come to accept that “Professor-He-Knows-His-Name” has decided we are not getting out of his course this summer without learning something. (Yelp. That man is very, very serious.)

For our latest adventure in learning, he did the equivalent of taking us to the top of a mountain, handed us a copy of DeYoung’ (2014) Cybernetic Big Five Theory, then pushed us off while yelling: “Learn something on your way down.” (Ha! We adore him.)

Anyway. So, this is an account of what I think I learned. Question: Who are you anyway?

How to define you
Let’s begin where DeYoung began by explaining that the mission of personality psychology is to understand the whole person. From there, he explained that, to understand the whole person, once must examine the predictable “persisting patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition, and behaviors” of a person as determined by how they react to certain stimuli. In the case of his study, the stimuli of interest are goal setting and goal attainment. DeYoung puts forth that homo sapiens are all pretty much alike in biological composition. However, where we begin to become distinctly different is in our personalities or predictable behaviors (p. 33-34).

DeYoung presents the Cybernetic Big Five Theory (CB5T) as the study of the human cybernetic systems, or personalities. Specifically, CB5T theorizes, we can be defined according to five inherent evolutionary humanistic principles:

characteristic adaptions;
subjective life narratives based on our personal experiences and cultural and social values and mores. (Huh?)
Okay. Let’s break this down further. DeYoung explained that we are who we as defined by:

how we set and pursue goals;
how we determine which actions we will take to obtain those goals;
how we take those actions;
how we interpret the outcomes of those actions; and
our critical reflections regarding how we performed overall during this process (p. 34)
It all boils down to how you react
Skipping ahead, DeYoung’s categorized the various “hierarchical” personality traits into five dimensions: Extraversion, Neuroticism, Agreeableness; Conscientiousness, and Openness/Intellect (p. 35-38.) Further, he opined that CB5T aligns those personality types with the predictable “high” and “low” behaviors (traits) outlined below.

Extraversion. Exploration, talkative, assertive, and gregarious when high but reserved, withdrawn, silent, and inactive when low.
Neuroticism. Defensive in the fact of uncertainty, threat, or punishment when low but self-confident, secure, hopeful, and unflappable when high.
Openness/Intellect. Cognitive exploration of goal using engagement and information when high but unimaginative, narrow-minded, and stubborn when low.
Conscientiousness. Organized, persistent, and responsible when high but unreliable and disorganized when low.
Agreeableness. Altruistic and cooperative, trustworthy, flexible, and sensitive when high but selfish, aggressive, argumentative, and impolite when low (Rasa, 2016).
DeYoung then explains how the five personalities react when faced with stressors and barriers while pursuing their goals. For instance, Neuroticism and Extraversion personalities correlate strongly in their ability to adapt and remain positive in the face of adversity, while the other three personalities can become dysfunctional and unstable under pressure (p. 53-54).

Why it matters
DeYoung recommends that we strive to integrate and manage the high and low aspects of our personalities to avoid unnecessary destabilization and risk. Otherwise, he warns, our distinct patterns of behavior will inhibited the “between-person”, or “within-person” selves, which is required to become well-aligned human beings. In order to accomplish this, however, DeYoung says we must abandon our “self-deceptions” so that we can make the personality adjustments necessary to continue moving forward toward accomplishing our goals.

Jennie’s Perspective
(Humph.) As a triple-diagnosed Myers-Briggs “INTJ” businesswoman and “scholar-under-construction,” my honest reaction is – whatever. My usual position is – “Let’s just all get that work done right, okay? We can play friends and be nice later.”

No. These days, I do not particularly find myself engaged in a whole lot of self-deception often. Especially now that I am growing older.

I am not saying that I do not hope to stretch myself to maintain peace of mind within my space. But, for now, I am who I am. Moreover, I kind of like me. As is.

Just sayin’ …


DeYoung, C. (2014). A cybernetic big five theory for personality psychology. Personality and Individual Differences, 60, S18. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2013.07.381
Raza, S. (2016, March 20). Personality Traits And The Dimensions Of Political Ideology.

woman sitting on poolside setting both of her feet on pool
What a Difference a Summer Makes

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I am learning some fun stuff this summer. So, I looked forward to writing this week’s blog post.

Question: What have I learned about using the rapid analysis and response process to solve complex soft system problems?

Hard versus Soft Systems Problems
Well. Let’s start at the beginning. I learned the difference between hard and soft system problems. Specifically, I learned that hard systems problems, sometimes referred to as systems engineering, assumes an objective reality exists in the world where well-defined problems can be solved. Period. The focus is usually placed on the technical aspects of a problem and the rigid scientific method approach is usually be employed to explore and determine an “ideal” solution to a problem. By contrast, soft system problems, sometimes referred to human activity systems, have loose frameworks that can be fuzzy, vague, messy, or even poorly defined. There are usually differing subjective interpretations of the issues, but humans behaviors are normally the problem’s core. Soft system problems require creative, unique, and intuitive solutions and efforts are required to first define and understand the problem before any probable solutions can be conceptualized or conceived (Checkland & Haynes, 1994).

Complex versus “Wicked” Soft Systems Problems
Further, I learned that there are variations of soft system problems. Complex soft system problems are typically defined as those that can be approached from multiple or competing perspectives and there are usually multiple possible solutions. Conversely, “wicked” soft systems problems are unique and lack definitive formulations or solutions. There are usually no stopping rules or solutions, no “pass-fail,” “true-false,” right-wrong,” or “good-bad” formative solutions or definitive tests, and “wicked” soft systems problems do not have an exhaustive list of possible solutions because of the varying worldviews (Weltanschauung) usually seated at the table (Buchanan, 1992).

I also learned that, whether you are dealing with a complex or “wicked” soft system problem, you should put on your systems thinking cap. Probable solutions will most likely require instigating a change in the habits of the minds of those humans causing the problems. So, as a soft systems practitioner, you should:

organize the human activity system’s view of the problem by helping them to understand the “big picture”;
show patterns and trends causing the issues;
prove the impacts of the problem on organizational operations;
help design and tests assumptions and concepts;
provide supports should unintended consequences surface; and
leverage all available resources within the system during the implementation of change.
This summer, I have learned to how use the research and evidence-based eight-step soft systems methodology to solve soft systems problems. In addition, I learned how to leverage my background in quality improvement and Total Quality Management and my applied technologies and performance improvement education during the planning, implementation, and evaluation phase of resolving soft system problem.

Yes. I have learned a lot over the last two months, and I can hardly wait to get busy.

Jennie’s Perspective
It seems funny to me sometimes how the old adage, “what goes around comes around” has a way of proving itself. It sometimes appears that our lives are captured within a perfect hermeneutic circle where all things in our lives and experiences work together for our ultimate good as we stumble and bumble through the courses of our lives (Romans 8:28).

When I decided to turn the page on what I’ve done in the past to explore a bright new horizon of opportunities, I never expected to end up back almost exactly where I started my journey: performance improvement.

Well. Who knows? Maybe that was my destination all the time, and the last few years I have been progressively working my way down this path subconsciously.

At any rate, it feels good to walk familiar territory. Because, as another old adage aptly declares, “Ain’t no place like home.”

I’m just sayin’ …


Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design issues, 8(2), 5-21.

Checkland, P. B., & Haynes, M. G. (1994). Varieties of systems thinking: the case of soft systems methodology. System dynamics review, 10(2‐3), 189-197.

Polites, G. L., & Karahanna, E. (2013). The embeddedness of information systems habits in organizational and individual level routines: Development and disruption. Mis Quarterly, 221-246.

three men in jacket laughing at each other
What to Do When Folks Just Won’t Do Right

As I move toward a close to the Summer 2019 term, I feel a little sad that I cannot stay and learn more about soft systems methodologies from “Mr.-Professor-Who-Knows-His-Name.” What a journey. Great fun and great learning all along the way.

Question: Is it possible to align Human Activity Systems implementation and evaluation plans?

Absolutely. As a matter of fact, there is a well-driven path.

Analyzing and Attacking Human Activity System “Wicked” Problems
According to the basic principles of the soft system methodology, “wicked” Human Activity Systems (HAS) problems usually require a unique one-time fix. The fix is usually associated with leading those humans involved to the knowledge that there is a problem, the problem is associated with their behaviors, and that they should stop doing what they are doing and do something else. The next step is to ensure the humans involved get the message that they should correct their actions and behaviors.

Implementing Change in Human Activity Systems
To achieve these outcomes, I began by designing an implementation plan for my conceptual soft systems change model using Lewin’s (1947) Three-Step Model of Change framework to gain a better vision for where the proposed organizational changes are required. Specifically, I studied the eight-step soft system methodology-based concept I created to decide where I could “freeze,” “change,” then “refreeze” the implementation process to lock in the changes desired (Burns, 2004).

Next, I used Kirkpatrick Four-Level Model of Training Evaluation Levels 1 through Level 3 framework to create an instructional design model for teaching leaders and employees how to effect the change with the Level 4 desired results (the change achieved) in mind (Kirkpatrick & Kirpatrick, 2016). I locked the instructional design down with a few Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning checkpoints for measuring skills and learning transfer (Pollock et al., 2015) .

Managing Change in Human Activity Soft Systems
Finally, I integrated Total Quality Management (TQM) quarterly milestones audits to monitor and evaluate the desired iterative change and quality improvement process for at least one year so tweaks could be made when and where needed (Evans, 2002).

Now. I feel the resultant HAS soft systems conceptual model implementation and evaluation framework I created for these assignments are both feasible and evidence-based. But, I will have to wait to see how “Mr.-Professor-Who-Knows-His-Name” feels about my integrated training and quality improvement diagram. I should receive that in a few days, and I definitely look forward to the value I am sure he will add to my plans.

Jennie’s Perspective
Based on my experience with correcting HAS wicked problems, I am confident that once the humans involved accept the need for change, learn how to effect the change, and recognize there will be follow-up and accountability for their role in and during the change – deficiencies within soft systems begin correcting themselves almost immediately after the “Go!” refreeze switch is flipped.

I honestly believe that no one wants to do a lousy job. So in those rare occasions where this is the case, the wicked problem can still be corrected by targeting interventions higher up on the food chain.

As Maslow (1943) once noted so many decades ago, once you meet people’s physiological basic needs for survival and safety, they will naturally begin pursuing their psychological needs (Maslow, 1943). That is when the desire to KEEP THEIR JOBS becomes a dominant influencing factor. After all, if you have an employee uninterested in quality control and improvements, should they be working for you?

If your answer is “No!”

Well. Then that opens up an entirely new avenue for you to resolve that wicked Human Activity System problem, right? Document that bad attitude then call the Human Resource Department right away

I’m just saying, …


Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and the planned approach to change: a re‐appraisal. Journal of Management studies, 41(6), 977-1002.

Evans, J. R. (2002). Total quality management. INFOR, 40(4), 364.

Kirkpatrick, J. D., & Kirkpatrick, W. K. (2016). Kirkpatrick’s four levels of training evaluation. Association for Talent Development.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological review, 50(4), 370.

Pollock, R. V., Jefferson, A. M., Wick, C. W., & Wick, C. (2015). The six disciplines of breakthrough learning. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

man looking at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
Make Sense. Some folks recognize “The Con.”

With another presidential election around the corner, I appreciated this assignment on epistemological academic discourse. Question: Can going off the deep end win arguments?

“Epistemology” has been defined as the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge and the study of the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief (“Epistemology,” 2001). The mission of epistemology is to clarify misconceptions about knowledge, how it should be applied, and how it should be explained (Rescher, 2003). Therefore, it is small wonder why those considered as the great philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) promoted the importance of epistemology to culture and society: Epistemology seeks the interpretation of truth to advance knowledge for the use of humankind to make informed decisions (Atoi, 2018). Throughout history, however, argumentative assumptions have purported themselves to be epistemology, when if fact, such misrepresentations are actually fallacies intended to deceive, control, and manipulate- sometimes in error and at other times with intent (Wakaki, 2017).

Epistemology and Assumption-based Argumentation
One such case may be represented in a dated article by Eraut (1994). The work was intended to provide insight into why educators may not have embraced educational technologies at the levels of gusto expected during its infancy. After writing, “… claims about the effectiveness and utility of educational technology serve an important political purpose in attracting resources and sponsorship, and claims about the theoretical foundations of educational technology play an important part in justifying its academic status, for which criteria related to disciplined and research-based study usually count for more than those related to utility” (p. 1883), Eraut appears to have fallen victim to his own suppositions.

Epistemological Fallacies
For instance, Eraut identified Finn (1960) as a seminal author and “one of the key individuals” that helped advance learning technologies in America. However, Eraut identifies several epistemological fallacies that may explain why Finn’s academic discourse may not have achieved the intended results.

First, Eraut’s references Finn’s argument that, since many areas of North American society was transformed by technology, education would inevitably undergo a similar organizational and cultural change. Similarly, Eraut attributes Finn with arguing, if educators clung to “outmoded” and “old concepts” and did not embrace educational technologies, academia was “going overboard,” “sinking,” and would end up “tossed to the sharks.” Finally, according to Eraut, Finn resorted to arguing educators that did not use audiovisual technology during instruction might “go down the drain.” (Yipes!)

Considering most educators are well-versed on the evaluation of logic and fallacy during academic discourse, such words were probably highly scrutinized back then and concluded to represent nonsense. This would not have advanced Finn’s cause.

Refuting the Common “Non-Argument” or “How to Rightfully Divide the Truth”
To avoid errors in epistemological logic, Janaway (2018), an internationally-respected and popular neurosciencist, psychiatrists, author, and member of the American Council on Science and Health, suggests several techniques to strengthen logical arguments during academic discourse. First, instead of arguing inconclusive causal assumptions such as, since one thing happened, another result would inevitably occur, Janaway proposes academic discourse explore trends that might drive culture and societies toward advances such the cost-saving benefits and the effectiveness of using learning technologies during instruction. Instead of slippery slope arguments based on nonsensical assumptions and outlandish metaphorical worst-case scenarios intended to shock and frighten, Janaway advocates academic discourse be devoid of hyperbolic imagery and focus instead on pro-con rationale positioning grounded in facts, logic, and evidence. Janaway also advises against false dichotomy or false dilemma premises during academic discourse to instead explore reasonable foreseeable options that can be evaluated rationally and logically. In addition, Janaway warns against making strawman, false associations, bandwagon naturalistic, anecdotal, circular reasoning, and exaggerated generalization arguments that fail to address the topic of discussion.

But, Janaway appears to particularly take offense at emotional arguments that manipulate through guilt and pity and abusive ad hominem, and red herring arguments that present themselves as logic – but are actually personal insults. Finally, Janaway explains that the common thread in fallacy arguments is that the “logic” used claims to represent knowledge, but instead are misrepresentations of information, assumptions in terms and intent, or diversions with the intent to manipulate and deceive. Therefore, Janaway advises fallacies be met with Sagan-Hitchens Razor logic which dictates: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Or, in short – “put up or shut up!” (Janaway, 2018).

(As I stated earlier, this assignment was appropriate considering we are in a presidential election season, when the need to seek truth should be of utmost importance to voters.)

Jennie’s Perspective
Reading Eraut’s article in view of Janaway’s advice, I cannot help but wonder if epistemological-deficient logic and arguments that insult instead of reason might not be why some educators appear confused or divided concerning why they should integrate the use of learning technologies into their curriculum. I agree with Janaway that, during academic discourse with educators, scholars have earned the assumption that they can detect false arguments and are prepared to refute manipulative, emotional, and overpowering heavy-handed logic.

But, I can also see how this might not apply in situations where academic discourse has ulterior motives other than seeking truth. In such cases, the need to follow Janaway’s “put up or shut up!” becomes essential to the health and well-being of us all.

I’m just sayin’ …


Atoi, E. N. (2018). The Epistemology of Truth-Claims in the Global Multi-Religious Ambiance. Studies in Interreligious Dialogue, 28(1), 129–147. Retrieved from

Epistemology. (2001, June 5). Retrieved from

Eraut, M. (1994). Educational technology: Conceptual frameworks and historical development. The international encyclopedia of education, 2, 1882-1899.

Finn, J. D. (1960). Technology and the instructional process.

Janaway, B. (2018, June 19). 10 Common Logical Fallacies And How To Fight Back [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Rescher, N. (2003). Epistemology : An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Wakaki, T. (2017). Assumption‐based argumentation equipped with preferences and its application to decision making, practical reasoning, and epistemic reasoning. Computational Intelligence, 33(4), 706–736.

boy in blue and white plaid shirt reading book
Learning Ecologies: Transformational Soft Systems Growth

As an educator and instructional designer, my personal learning theories support my beliefs and aspirations to create a world full of self-determined, self-fulfilled, process-focused lifelong learners taught to use the essential learning spaces, tools, materials, and resources required to navigate their journey toward a rich, meaningful, limitless life.

Questions: What is a self-determined lifelong learner? What ins the world are heutagogical evidence-based methodologies?

What are Lifelong Learners?
Let us begin with a few definitions. Cendon (2018) loosely defined lifelong learners as individuals interested in updating and enhancing their skills and competencies throughout their working lives (Cendon, 2018). Peters and Romero (2019) noted that the phenomenon of lifelong learning is gaining traction worldwide and that it primarily is being driven by the rise of a digitally transformed modern society. Easily accessible, flexible, and mobile online and computer-assisted learning technologies are also playing a role in driving adults to re-enter educational programs supporting the idea of lifelong learning as a process. No longer confined by brick-and-mortar boundaries, adults are now free to return to colleges and universities to seek new knowledge and new skills in pursuit of increased feelings of self-efficacy and deeper self-actualization (Peters & Romero, 2019).

Self-determined lifelong learners seek a wide range of process-focused, spiral-loop, holistic learning experiences that transition from learning experiences to real-world skills. However, to fully embrace and engage lifelong learners, institutions of higher education should understand that the needs of these students are uniquely different and more demanding. (Cedon, 2018; Peters & Romero, 2019).

In other words, lifelong learners need heutagogy.

Heutagogy: Self-Determined Transformative Learning Experiences
What in the world is heutagogy? Blaschke (2012) defined heutagogy as “… a form of self-determined learning with practices and principles rooted in andragogy” that requires an approach to teaching and learning emphasizing the development of learner competencies, capacities, and capabilities based on the learner’s own experiences and purposes. As such, heutagogical instructional strategies should include competency-based skills-building within learning environments that promote self-efficacy, collaborative teamwork, creativity, and positive values (Blaschke, 2012). Such learning environments are best designed as heutagogical learning ecologies.

Learning Ecologies: Adventures in Human Soft System Ecosystems
Jackon (2013) defined learning ecologies, or ecosystems, as temporal or spatial learning spaces that include inhabitants, processes, contextual learning opportunities, collaborative relationships, and interactions intertwined to create personalized learning life-courses (Jackon, 2013). (Huh?)

Okay. Let’s try this again. Jackson’s point of view is that learning ecosystems are self-regulating spaces with overlapping territories or boundaries where various species that interdependently co-exist within stable relationships that share consumable resources. Such spaces must be adaptive, dynamic, and responsive and offer a variety of physical and virtual learning activities in interesting, relevant, and unique configurations. The ecosystems should also include interdependent instructional processes underpinned by dynamic learning theories and instructional designs. (Sounds good. But – how?)

Jackson advocates learning ecosystems include educational approaches and strategies that progressively lead a lifelong learner from an assessment of their learning needs to how they best learn and then to a self-directed path of instruction. Along the way, the learner should critically reflect on the learning experiences encountered, the activities completed, and the formative and summative performance assessments passed to deepen their learning experiences.

According to Jackson, each lifelong learning ecosystem should include five parts:

Microsystems that include learning operations, situations, relationships, and communications;
Mesosystems where instructors provide guidance and resources that support self-determined learning;
Exosystems where those events that impact learning reside until they are adopted or embedded into the learning process;
Macrosystems where the wider society exists within socio-economic, cultural, and political contexts; and
Chronosystems where the transformative learning experiences and learning assessments occur (Jackson, 2013).
Jackson suggested that learning ecosystems and their various characteristics and components should be largely determined by the lifelong learner under the guidance of teachers and institutions. According to Jackson, the learner should be the navigator that charts the path between specific independent concrete, immediate, and confined task-conscious learning. He also suggested teacher facilitated learning-conscious tasks using performance goals, instructional processes, resources, and strategic communications and relationships. Learning ecosystems, whether conceptual or virtual, should be practical and grounded by the learner’s values while also encouraging and empowering the lifelong learner to maintain the conditions and performance of their pathways as they navigate. In conclusion, Jackson inferred that teaching learners to design their individualized learning ecosystems ensures lifelong learners to follow a path that includes rich, meaningful, lifelong learning experiences that repeatedly add value long after lessons have been completed (Jackson, 2013).

Jennie’s Perspective
As originally stated, I aspire to create a world full of self-determined, process-focused lifelong learners. While creating these types of learners will require me to obtain the skills necessary to create individualized learning ecosystems, I am willing to accept this challenge and prepare myself to meet the demands of heutagogy heuristics.

Plus, as a lifelong learner myself, I am enjoying my own journey through a doctoral student instructional ecosystem by following the well-planned path created for me which is littered with delightful, challenging, and self-fulfilling learning experiences at every twist and turn.

Yes. To the more enlightened, my journey along this path, which only requires the essential things of self-determination, is indeed privileged traveling.


Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning: A Review of Heutagogical Practice and Self-Determined Learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(1), 56–71.

Cendon, E. (2018). Lifelong Learning at Universities: Future Perspectives for Teaching and Learning. Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research, 7(2), 81–87.

Jackson, N. J. (2013). The concept of learning ecologies. Lifewide learning, education and personal development e-book.

Kay, J. (2008). Lifelong learner modeling for lifelong personalized pervasive learning. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, 1(4), 215-228.

Moore, T., & Shaffer, S. C. (2017). Awakening the Learner Within: Purposeful Prompts and Lifelong Learning Measures in a First-Year Composition Course. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 17(4), 67–82.

man in black suit jacket smiling
The Unself: A Call for Collective Communicative Actions

It was based on a simple premise: ” … the procedure in mastery of drill and informational material were in many instances simple and definite enough to permit handling of much routine teaching by mechanical means” (Pressey, 1926, p.374). Who would have thought the simple logic of Sidney Pressey’s drill-and-practice “teaching machine” would evolve into the levels of learning technology-integration we see in classrooms today. In fact, Pressey’s simple logic gave rise to new types of teaching machines including those often referred to as learning technologies (“Sidney Pressey,” n.d.).

Question: How does technology impact learning and communications today and what are the consequences?

Public Participation Through Public and Social Discourse
Bolton’s (2005) provides additional insight into the work and theories of Jurgen Habermas, philosopher and social theorist. Bolton notes that Habermas’ fundamental theoretical argument was that widespread public participation through communicative actions promotes the sharing of information and that such communications are necessary to reach public consensus and actions, otherwise known as social capital. Bolton wrote that Habermas’ theories of communicative actions form the foundation for societal common understanding and cooperation and argued that, while Habermas’ theories do not address all facets of public discourse, the value of his work lies in Habermas’ focus on the public rationale. Specifically, Bolton wrote Habermas believed, if members of a society actively and regularly communicate, they will come to general levels of understanding for the betterment of all (Bolton, 2005).

Hansen, Berente, and Lyytinen (2009) also saw value Habermas’ work. The researchers’ saw social communicative actions as counterfactual methods of unifying rational public discourse. The researchers also saw technology-based information systems as well suited for such purposes. Their positions was supported by their examination of Wikipedia as an example of an information social agent teaching machine system of inquiry. The researchers determined Wikipedia is indeed an example of an information systems of inquiry for public discourse and that such systems are needed to emancipate societies from unwarranted societal control. In conclusion, Hansen, Berente, and Lyytinen advised further study of Wikipedia as an emergent computing platform capable of countering human oppression (Hansen, Berente, and Lyytinen, 2009).

Social Media, Communicative Actions, and Higher Education
To take matters further, Kirchloff (2014) examined social media networks and their potential as emergent information social agent teaching machine systems. He found that the addictive natures of social media do provide the flexibility, mobility, and real-time sharing, and responding required for rational discourse interactions. This infers that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google social media networks are equivalent of Pressey’s teaching machine . Work by other researchers (Reinhardt, 2019; Wakefield, Warren, & Alsobrook, 2011; Warren, 2012) also infer social media has great potential for actualizing Habermas’ theories regarding public discourse. But, in the realm of post-secondary education, research indicates public educators do not necessarily agree.

For example, Moran (2011) examined the personal and professional impacts of social media on teaching faculty. After surveying 1,920 randomly selected teaching faculty members, he found higher education is moving toward using social media as supplements to enhance traditional face-to-face teaching. An overwhelming majority of respondents (70%) agreed that video, podcasts, blogs, and wikis are valuable tools for teaching with 58% agreeing that social media can be valuable for collaborative learning. Further, a total of 78% of all faculty report using at least one social media site in support of their professional career activities. However, some respondents reported barriers to use of social media for teaching purposes. Besides a reported lack of support for such initiatives, 80% of respondents identified social media privacy and integrity as their main concern. Others reported they saw little value in integrating the use of Facebook or Twitter into their lesson plans with 53% of teachers reporting Facebook has negative value as a learning technology and 46% reporting the same feelings toward Twitter (Moran, 2011). This infers higher education has not as yet embraced social media as an aspect of Pressey’s teaching machine, Habermas’ communicative actions, or Hansen, Berente, and Lyytinen’s emergent information systems .

But, while the barriers and concerns expressed by higher education regarding the use social media for teaching are understandable, Facebook and Twitter have proven their potential to draw individuals into collective public communicative actions. LinkedIn, another popular social media site, has also proven itself as a professional development networking community of organized like-minded professional that share, learn, and act together. Therefore, it can be rationally argued that social media is a form of teaching machine that can be used for social learning, facilitating public discourse, and organizing strategic, constative, normative, and dramaturgical communicative actions ( Hansen, Berente, & Lyytinen, 2009; Kirchhoff, 2014; Reinhardt, 2019; Wakefield, Warren, & Alsobrook, 2011; Warren, 2012) ).

Jennie’s Perspective
Back to the question: How does technology impact learning and communications today and what are the consequences?

America’s founding fathers determined that free and open public discourse should be constitutionally guarded rights. To me. this supports Bolton’s association of public discourse with normative communicative and collective actions that protect societies. Today, Facebook and Twitter regularly propel individuals to put aside their differences and assume a near-automatic “unself” consciousness ready to act collectively to guard and protect their widely shared beliefs (Bolton, 2005, p. 36).

So, in my opinion, are learning technologies and social media forms of teaching machines capable of imparting public, social, and academic discourse for collective actions? Absolutely.

I feel that Habermas, Bolton, and others that argue against suppression of public discourse deserve due consideration. Therefore, in closing, I stand with others much wiser than myself, that once argued :

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (U. S. Constitution.)

I’m just sayin’ …


Benjamin, L. T. (1988). A history of teaching machines. American psychologist, 43(9), 703.

Bolton, R. (2005). Habermas’s theory of communicative action and the theory of social capital. Association of American Geographers, Denver, Colorado, April, 2.

Hansen, S., Berente, N., & Lyytinen, K. (2009). Wikipedia, Critical Social Theory, and the Possibility of Rational Discourse. Information Society, 25(1), 38–59.

Kirchhoff, L. (2014). Teaching Social Media: The Can-Do Guide. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

Moran, M., Seaman, J., & Tinti-Kane, H. (2011). Teaching, Learning, and Sharing: How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media. Babson Survey Research Group.

Pressey, S. L. (1927). A machine for automatic teaching of drill material. School & Society.

Reinhardt, J. (2019). Social Media in Second and Foreign Language Teaching and Learning: Blogs, Wikis, and Social Networking. Language Teaching, 52(1), 1–39.

Sidney Pressey. (n.d.). Retrieved from

U. S. Constitution, Amendment 1

Wakefield, J. S., Warren, S. J., & Alsobrook, M. (2011). Learning and teaching as communicative actions: A mixed-methods Twitter study. Knowledge Management & E-Learning: An International Journal, 3(4), 563-584.

Warren, E. T. S. J. (2012). Learning and teaching as communicative actions: Social media as educational tool. In Using social media effectively in the classroom (pp. 112-128). Routledge.

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