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Opposing to behaviorism and cognitivism, learning paradigms which begin from a point of view that world external to the learner is objective and real and the learner needs to map it's principles and facts, constructivism as a learning paradigm1) suggests that:
learning is not a passive, but an active, socially enhanced process of knowledge construction,
knowledge cannot (and need not) be transferred to the learner, but rather constructed by the learner,
the learner constructs his own subjective interpretation and subjective meaning of the objective reality by cognizing subject,
learning occurs through interaction of learner's prior knowledge (knowledge schemes), ideas and experience,
learning occurs in certain social, cultural and linguistic settings.
Teaching of a discipline should therefore:
focus not teaching of the body of knowledge, but experiencing the processes and procedures, and
use language as a tool that can help in guiding student's construction, but keep in mind that language users create subjective meaning based on their experience.
Although constructivist ideas can be tracked back to 18th century and authors like Giambattista Vico2) it mostly emerged in the 1970s3) and has been recognized as a paradigm, but also as a theory4). Today constructivism usually appears in the literature in two main variants5) (but also in a number of others6)):
(also known as personal constructivism
or radical constructivism
) derived from works of Lev Vygotsky
and extended in works of Jean Lave
, Allan Collins
, John Brown
, and Ernst von Glasersfeld
, which suggest knowledge is situation-specific and context-dependent and that social environment has a key role in learning, and
(also known as realist constructivism
) presented in works of authors like Jean Piaget
or Jerome Bruner
, which, since knowledge cannot be directly transmitted from person to person, focuses on individual's knowledge construction and learning through discovery.
Instructional design theories and learning models:
Constructivist instructional design models have been subjected to much criticisms lately7)8), mostly for promoting pure discovery-learning and minimally guided instruction. Richard Mayer9) has reviewed results of pure discovery-based learning experiments from 1950s to 1980s and concluded that every decade a new similar approach was invented under different name not making any significant difference. In his own words,
“Pure discovery did not work in the 1960s, it did not work in the 1970s, and it did not work in the 1980s… The debate about discovery has been replayed many times in education, but each time, the research evidence has favored a guided approach to learning.
Critics claim discovery-learning and minimally guided instruction, although more enjoyable to students11),
can lead to frustration due to failure
are not as effective
as guided learning14)
cause great cognitive load15)16)
provide worse results than worked examples17)18)
result in greater time consumption
without results improvement19)
do not show statistically significant improvements in knowledge when implemented in medical schools20)
that these disadvantages will apply especially to novice learners21)
Although constructivism also includes learning methods with a certain degree of guidance and not just discovery learning and minimally guided instruction, critics claim that those methods still ignore proven benefits guidance, worked examples22), and induce a higher cognitive load resulting in lower resources available for learning due to orientation on finding a solution to a problem.
It is important to notice that these findings do not indicate that the initial assumptions of constructivism of a learner constructing his own representation of knowledge are wrong. The indicate that suggested instructional design consequences described in discovery learning models with minimal guidance do not necessarily follow. Today it is generally considered that advantages of guidance during instructional process begin to fade only when learners possess sufficient amount of prior knowledge to provide guidance by themselves23).
Ertmer, P. A., Newby T. J. Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4):50–72. 1993.
Liu, C. H, and R. Matthews. Vygotsky’s philosophy: Constructivism and its criticisms examined. International Education Journal 6, no. 3: 386–399. 2005.
Husen, T., and T. N. Postlethwaite. Constructivism in Education. In The International Encyclopedia of Education, 1:162-163. Oxford/New York: Pergamon Press, 1989.
Constructivism at Learning Theories. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
Sjoberg, S. Constructivism and learning. Invited contribution to Sjoberg, S., E. Baker, B. McGaw, and P. Peterson. International Encyclopedia of Education 3rd Edition, Oxford: Elsevier. 2007.
Press, Teachers College. Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice. Teachers College Press, 1996.
L. P. Steffe & J. Gale (Eds.). Constructivism in education. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 1995.
K. Tobin (Ed.). The practice of constructivism in science education. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 1993.
Phillips, D. C. The good, the bad, and the ugly: The many faces of constructivism. Educational researcher 24, no. 7: 5–12. 1995.