By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A., Human Resource Development
Constructivism is a branch of cognitive psychology that has greatly impacted the thinking of instructional designers (Dick, Carey & Carey, 2005). The fundamental point of constructivism is that the learner as an individual combines existing knowledge and experiences with new learning. Constructivism lies within rationalism, which holds that reason is the main source of knowledge and that reality is not discovered, but constructed.
The primary contributors to constructivism include Jean Piaget (active learning, schemes, assimilation and accommodation, etc.) and Lev S. Vygotsky (social constructivism, group work, apprenticeship, etc.)
The main assumptions of constructivism are divided into three categories; individual constructivism, social constructivism, and contextualism.
Individual constructivism holds that knowledge is constructed by learners who are actively engaged in experiences. The learners reflect upon these experiences and build upon their individual knowledge by adding the new experiences to their existing knowledge.
Social constructivism regards learning as collaborative, suggesting that all learning has a shared goal or meaning, whether or not learning takes place in individual or group settings.
Contextualism considers the realism of learning contexts, suggesting that learning and assessment of learning should take in genuine environments.
Designing Instruction to Incorporate the Theory of Constructivism
Designing instruction to incorporate the theory of constructivism would include activities that encourage learners to discover principles by themselves. The responsibility of the instructor is to deliver learning in a form that is suitable to the learners’ current comprehension level.
The syllabus should be structured in such a manner as to build learning upon the knowledge and experiences the learners’ already possess.
Traditional Classroom vs.Constructivist Classroom
In comparing a traditional classroom to a constructivist classroom, some of the main differences become evident.
In Traditional Classrooms:
- Learning is based on repetition
- The teacher’s role is rooted in authority
- Assessment is made through testing and correct answers
- Learners work primarily on their own.
In Constructivist Classrooms:
- Learning activities are interactive and build on what the learner already knows
- The teacher’s role is interactive
- Assessment includes student works and points of view
- Students work in groups
Benefits of Constructivist Learning
Because of its classroom environment that stresses collaboration and exchange of ideas, constructivist learning can be beneficial in promoting the social and communication skills of the learners. In addition, since learning is based on the explorations and questions of the learners, learners own the material they have learned and are able to transfer this new learning into new learning experiences.
About Learning, Concept, Theories. (2008). Behaviorism. Retrieved June 15, 2009, from Funderstanding. Web site: http://www.funderstanding.com/content/behaviorism
Concept to Classroom. (2004). Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved June 12, 2009, from Thirteen ed online
Web site: http://thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism /index_sub1.html
Dick, W., Carey, L., & Carey, J. (2005). The Systematic Design of Instruction (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon Publishers
Smith, P. L. & Ragan, T. J. (2005). Instructional Design (3rd ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Jossey-Bass Education