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Constructivism may be considered an epistemology (a philosophical framework or theory of learning)(Jean Piaget, 1967), which argues humans construct meaning from current knowledge structures. These arguments about the nature of human learning guide constructivist learning theories and teaching methods of education. Constructivism values developmentally-appropriate facilitator-supported learning that is initiated and directed by the learner.


In past centuries constructivist ideas were not widely valued due to the perception that children's play was seen as aimless and of little importance. Jean Piaget did not agree with these traditional views, however. He saw play as an important and necessary part of the student's cognitive development and has provided scientific evidence for his views. Today, constructivist theories are influential throughout much of the so-called informal learning sector. One example is the Investigate Centre at the Natural History Museum, London. Here visitors can engage in open ended investigations of real natural history specimens reaching towards self selected goals.

Some historical figures who influenced constructivism:

For more detailed information on the philosophy of the construction of human knowledge, see Constructivist epistemology.

Some historical figures who influenced education:

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who strongly influenced modern educational theory through his book Emile: Or, On Education

Constructivist theory

Formalization of the theory of constructivism is generally attributed to Jean Piaget, who articulated mechanisms by which knowledge is internalized by learners. He suggested that through processes of accommodation and assimilation, individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences. When individuals assimilate, they incorporate the new experience into an already existing framework without changing that framework. This may occur when individuals' experiences are aligned with their internal representations of the world, but may also occur as a failure to change a faulty understanding; for example, they may not notice events, may misunderstand input from others, or may decide that an event is a fluke and is therefore unimportant as information about the world. In contrast, when individuals' experiences contradict their internal representations, they may change their perceptions of the experiences to fit their internal representations. According to the theory, accommodation is the process of reframing one's mental representation of the external world to fit new experiences. Accommodation can be understood as the mechanism by which failure leads to learning: when we act on the expectation that the world operates in one way and it violates our expectations, we often fail, but by accommodating this new experience and reframing our model of the way the world works, we learn from the experience of failure, or others' failure.

It is important to note that constructivism itself does not suggest one particular pedagogy. In fact, constructivism describes how learning should happen, regardless of whether learners are using their experiences to understand a lecture or attempting to design a model airplane. In both cases, the theory of constructivism suggests that learners construct knowledge. Constructivism as a description of human cognition is often associated with pedagogic approaches that promote active learning learning by doing.

Constructivistism learning intervention

The nature of the learner

The learner as a unique individual

Social constructivism views each learner as a unique individual with unique needs and backgrounds. The learner is also seen as complex and multidimensional. Social constructivism not only acknowledges the uniqueness and complexity of the learner, but actually encourages, utilises and rewards it as an integral part of the learning process (Wertsch 1997).

The importance of the background and culture of the learner

Social constructivism encourages the learner to arrive at his or her own version of the truth, influenced by his or her background, culture or embedded worldview. Historical developments and symbol systems, such as language, logic, and mathematical systems, are inherited by the learner as a member of a particular culture and these are learned throughout the learner's life. This also stresses the Shenshwan importance of the nature of the learner's social interaction with knowledgeable members of the society. Without the social interaction with other more knowledgeable people, it is impossible to acquire social meaning of important symbol systems and learn how to utilize them. Young children develop their thinking abilities by interacting with other children, adults and the physical world. From the social constructivist viewpoint, it is thus important to take into account the background and culture of the learner throughout the learning process, as this background also helps to shape the knowledge and truth that the learner creates, discovers and attains in the learning process (Wertsch 1997).

The responsibility for learning

Furthermore, it is argued that the responsibility of learning should reside increasingly with the learner (Von Glasersfeld 1989). Social constructivism thus emphasizes the importance of the learner being actively involved in the learning process, unlike previous educational viewpoints where the responsibility rested with the instructor to teach and where the learner played a passive, receptive role. Von Glasersfeld (1989) emphasizes that learners construct their own understanding and that they do not simply mirror and reflect what they read. Learners look for meaning and will try to find regularity and order in the events of the world even in the absence of full or complete information.

The motivation for learning

Another crucial assumption regarding the nature of the learner, concerns the level and source of motivation for learning. According to Von Glasersfeld (1989) sustaining motivation to learn is strongly dependent on the learner’s confidence in his or her potential for learning. These feelings of competence and belief in potential to solve new problems, are derived from first-hand experience of mastery of problems in the past and are much more powerful than any external acknowledgement and motivation (Prawat and Floden 1994). This links up with Vygotsky’s "zone of proximal development" (Vygotsky 1978) where learners are challenged within close proximity to, yet slightly above, their current level of development. By experiencing the successful completion of challenging tasks, learners gain confidence and motivation to embark on more complex challenges.

The role of the instructor

Instructors as facilitators

According to the social constructivist approach, instructors have to adapt to the role of facilitators and not teachers (Bauersfeld, 1995). Where a teacher gives a didactic lecture which covers the subject matter, a facilitator helps the learner to get to his or her own understanding of the content. In the former scenario the learner plays a passive role and in the latter scenario the learner plays an active role in the learning process. The emphasis thus turns away from the instructor and the content, and towards the learner (Gamoran, Secada, & Marrett, 1998). This dramatic change of role implies that a facilitator needs to display a totally different set of skills than a teacher (Brownstein 2001). A teacher tells, a facilitator asks; a teacher lectures from the front, a facilitator supports from the back; a teacher gives answers according to a set curriculum, a facilitator provides guidelines and creates the environment for the learner to arrive at his or her own conclusions; a teacher mostly gives a monologue, a facilitator is in continuous dialogue with the learners (Rhodes and Bellamy, 1999). A facilitator should also be able to adapt the learning experience ‘in mid-air’ by using his or her own initiative in order to steer the learning experience to where the learners want to create value.

The learning environment should also be designed to support and challenge the learner's thinking (Di Vesta, 1987). While it is advocated to give the learner ownership of the problem and solution process, it is not the case that any activity or any solution is adequate. The critical goal is to support the learner in becoming an effective thinker. This can be achieved by assuming multiple roles, such as consultant and coach.

The nature of the learning process

Learning is an active, social process

Social constructivist scholars view learning as an active process where learners should learn to discover principles, concepts and facts for themselves, hence the importance of encouraging guesswork and intuitive thinking in learners (Brown et al.1989; Ackerman 1996). In fact, for the social constructivist, reality is not something that we can discover because it does not pre-exist prior to our social invention of it. Kukla (2000) argues that reality is constructed by our own activities and that people, together as members of a society, invent the properties of the world.

Other constructivist scholars agree with this and emphasize that individuals make meanings through the interactions with each other and with the environment they live in. Knowledge is thus a product of humans and is socially and culturally constructed (Ernest 1991; Prawat and Floden 1994). McMahon (1997) agrees that learning is a social process. He further states that learning is not a process that only takes place inside our minds, nor is it a passive development of our behaviours that is shaped by external forces and that meaningful learning occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities.

Vygotsky (1978) also highlighted the convergence of the social and practical elements in learning by saying that the most significant moment in the course of intellectual development occurs when speech and practical activity, two previously completely independent lines of development, converge. Through practical activity a child constructs meaning on an intrapersonal level, while speech connects this meaning with the interpersonal world shared by the child and her/his culture.

Dynamic interaction between task, instructor and learner

A further characteristic of the role of the facilitator in the social constructivist viewpoint, is that the instructor and the learners are equally involved in learning from each other as well (Holt and Willard-Holt 2000). This means that the learning experience is both subjective and objective and requires that the instructor’s culture, values and background become an essential part of the interplay between learners and tasks in the shaping of meaning. Learners compare their version of the truth with that of the instructor and fellow learners in order to get to a new, socially tested version of truth (Kukla 2000). The task or problem is thus the interface between the instructor and the learner (McMahon 1997). This creates a dynamic interaction between task, instructor and learner. This entails that learners and instructors should develop an awareness of each other's viewpoints and then look to own beliefs, standards and values, thus being both subjective and objective at the same time (Savery 1994).

Some studies argue for the importance of mentoring in the process of learning (Archee and Duin 1995; Brown et al. 1989). The social constructivist model thus emphasizes the importance of the relationship between the student and the instructor in the learning process.

Some learning approaches that could harbour this interactive learning include reciprocal teaching, peer collaboration, cognitive apprenticeship, problem-based instruction, web quests, anchored instruction and other approaches that involve learning with others.

Collaboration among learners

Learners with different skills and backgrounds should collaborate in tasks and discussions in order to arrive at a shared understanding of the truth in a specific field (Duffy and Jonassen 1992).

Most social constructivist models, such as that proposed by Duffy and Jonassen (1992), also stress the need for collaboration among learners, in direct contradiction to traditional competitive approaches. One Vygotskian notion that has significant implications for peer collaboration, is that of the zone of proximal development. Defined as the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers, it differs from the fixed biological nature of Piaget's stages of development. Through a process of 'scaffolding' a learner can be extended beyond the limitations of physical maturation to the extent that the development process lags behind the learning process (Vygotsky 1978).

Learning by teaching (LdL) as constructivist method

Main article: Learning by teaching
If students have to present and train new contents with their classmates, a non-linear process of collective knowledge-construction will be set up.

The importance of context

The social constructivist paradigm views the context in which the learning occurs as central to the learning itself (McMahon 1997).

Underlying the notion of the learner as an active processor is "the assumption that there is no one set of generalised learning laws with each law applying to all domains" (Di Vesta 1987:208). Decontextualised knowledge does not give us the skills to apply our understandings to authentic tasks because, as Duffy and Jonassen (1992) indicated, we are not working with the concept in the complex environment and experiencing the complex interrelationships in that environment that determine how and when the concept is used. One social constructivist notion is that of authentic or situated learning, where the student takes part in activities which are directly relevant to the application of learning and which take place within a culture similar to the applied setting (Brown et al. 1989). Cognitive apprenticeship has been proposed as an effective constructivist model of learning which attempts to "enculturate students into authentic practices through activity and social interaction in a way similar to that evident, and evidently successful, in craft apprenticeship" (Ackerman 1996:25).


Holt and Willard-Holt (2000) emphasize the concept of dynamic assessment, which is a way of assessing the true potential of learners that differs significantly from conventional tests. Here the essentially interactive nature of learning is extended to the process of assessment. Rather than viewing assessment as a process carried out by one person, such as an instructor, it is seen as a two-way process involving interaction between both instructor and learner. The role of the assessor becomes one of entering into dialogue with the persons being assessed to find out their current level of performance on any task and sharing with them possible ways in which that performance might be improved on a subsequent occasion. Thus, assessment and learning are seen as inextricably linked and not separate processes (Holt and Willard-Holt 2000).

According to this viewpoint instructors should see assessment as a continuous and interactive process that measures the achievement of the learner, the quality of the learning experience and courseware. The feedback created by the assessment process serves as a direct foundation for further development.

The selection, scope and sequencing of the subject matter

Knowledge should be discovered as an integrated whole

Knowledge should not be divided into different subjects or compartments, but should be discovered as an integrated whole (McMahon 1997; Di Vesta 1987).

This also again underlines the importance of the context in which learning is presented (Brown et al. 1989). The world, in which the learner needs to operate, does not approach one in the form of different subjects, but as a complex myriad of facts, problems, dimensions and perceptions (Ackerman 1996).

Engaging and challenging the learner

Learners should constantly be challenged with tasks that refer to skills and knowledge just beyond their current level of mastery. This will capture their motivation and build on previous successes in order to enhance the confidence of the learner (Brownstein 2001). This is in line with Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development which can be described as the distance between the actual developmental level (as determined by independent problem-solving) and the level of potential development (as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers) (Vygotsky 1978).

Vygotsky (1978) further claimed that instruction is good only when it proceeds ahead of development. Then it awakens and rouses to life an entire set of functions which are in the stage of maturing, which lie in the zone of proximal development. It is in this way that instruction plays an extremely important role in development.

In order to fully engage and challenge the learner, the task and the learning environment should reflect the complexity of the environment that the learner should be able to function in at the end of learning. Learners must not only have ownership of the learning or problem-solving process, but of the problem itself (Derry 1999).

Where the sequencing of subject matter is concerned, it is the constructivist viewpoint that the foundations of any subject may be taught to anybody at any stage in some form (Duffy and Jonassen 1992). This means that instructors should first introduce the basic ideas that give life and form to any topic or subject area, and then revisit and build upon these repeatedly. This notion has been extensively used in curricula.

It is also important for instructors to realize that although a curriculum may be set down for them, it inevitably becomes shaped by them into something personal which reflects their own belief systems, their thoughts and feelings about both the content of their instruction and their learners (Rhodes and Bellamy 1999). Thus, the learning experience becomes a shared enterprise. The emotions and life contexts of those involved in the learning process must therefore be considered as an integral part of learning. The goal of the learner is central in considering what is learned (Brown et al. 1989; Ackerman 1996).

The structuredness of the learning process

It is important to achieve the right balance between the degree of structure and flexibility that is built into the learning process. Savery (1994) contends that the more structured the learning environment, the harder it is for the learners to construct meaning based on their conceptual understandings. A facilitator should structure the learning experience just enough to make sure that the students get clear guidance and parameters within which to achieve the learning objectives, yet the learning experience should be open and free enough to allow for the learners to discover, enjoy, interact and arrive at their own, socially verified version of truth.

Final remarks

A constructivist learning intervention is thus an intervention where contextualised activities (tasks) are used to provide learners with an opportunity to discover and collaboratively construct meaning as the intervention unfolds. Learners are respected as unique individuals, and instructors act as facilitators rather than as teachers.

Pedagogies based on constructivism

Main article: Constructivist teaching methods

In fact, there are many pedagogies that leverage constructivist theory. Most approaches that have grown from constructivism suggest that learning is accomplished best using a hands-on approach. Learners learn by experimentation, and not by being told what will happen. They are left to make their own inferences, discoveries and conclusions. It also emphasizes that learning is not an "all or nothing" process but that students learn the new information that is presented to them by building upon knowledge that they already possess. It is therefore important that teachers constantly assess the knowledge their students have gained to make sure that the students' perceptions of the new knowledge are what the teacher had intended. Teachers will find that since the students build upon already existing knowledge, when they are called upon to retrieve the new information, they may make errors. It is known as reconstruction error when we fill in the gaps of our understanding with logical, though incorrect, thoughts. Teachers need to catch and try to correct these errors, though it is inevitable that some reconstruction error will continue to occur because of our innate retrieval limitations.

In most pedagogies based on constructivism, the teacher's role is not only to observe and assess but to also engage with the students while they are completing activities, wondering aloud and posing questions to the students for promotion of reasoning (DeVries et al., 2002). (ex: I wonder why the water does not spill over the edge of the full cup?) Teachers also intervene when there are conflicts that arise; however, they simply facilitate the students' resolutions and self-regulation, with an emphasis on the conflict being the students' and that they must figure things out for themselves. For example, promotion of literacy is accomplished by integrating the need to read and write throughout individual activities within print-rich classrooms. The teacher, after reading a story, encourages the students to write or draw stories of their own, or by having the students reenact a story that they may know well, both activities encourage the students to conceive themselves as reader and writers.

Specific approaches to education that are based on constructivism include:

  • Constructionism
    • An approach to learning developed by Seymour Papert and his colleagues at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Papert had worked with Piaget at the latter's Institute in Geneva. Papert eventually called his approach "constructionism." It included everything associated with Piaget's constructivism, but went beyond it to assert that constructivist learning happens especially well when people are engaged in constructing a product, something external to themselves such as a sand castle, a machine, a computer program or a book. This approach is greatly facilitated by the ready availability of powerful 'constructing' applications on personal computers. Promoters of the use of computers in education see an increasing need for students to develop skills in Multimedia literacy in order to use these tools in constructivist learning.
  • Reciprocal Learning
  • Procedural Facilitations for Writing
  • Cognitive Tutors
  • Cognitively Guided Instruction
    • A research and teacher professional development program in elementary mathematics created by Thomas P. Carpenter, Elizabeth Fennema, and their colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Its major premise is that teachers can use students' informal strategies (i.e., strategies students construct based on their understanding of everyday situations, such as losing marbles or picking flowers) as a primary basis for teaching mathematics in the elementary grades.
  • Anchored Instruction (Bransford et al)
    • Problems and approaches to solutions are embedded in a narrative environment.
  • Cognitive Apprenticeship (Collins et al)
    • Learning is achieved by integration into a specific implicit and explicit culture of knowledge.
  • Cognitive Flexibility (Sprio et al)
  • Pragmatic Constructivism (Müller, Klaus 2001)
  • The silent way, a constructivist approach to foreign language teaching and learning developed by Caleb Gattegno who worked with Piaget before WWII and in the late 1940s.

Research and Evidence Supporting Constructivism

Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn cite several studies supporting the success of the constructivist problem-based and inquiry learning methods. For example, they describe a project called GenScope, an inquiry-based science software application. Students using the GenScope software showed significant gains over the control groups, with the largest gains shown in students from basic courses. [1]

Hmelo-Silver et al also cite a large study by Geier on the effectiveness of inquiry-based science for middle school students, as demonstrated by their performance on high-stakes standardized tests. The improvement was 14% for the first cohort of students and 13% for the second cohort. This study also found that inquiry-based teaching methods greatly reduced the achievement gap for African-American students.[1]

Guthrie et al (2004) compared three instructional methods for third-grade reading: a traditional approach, a strategies instruction only approach, and an approach with strategies instruction and constructivist motivation techniques including student choices, collaboration, and hands-on activities. The constructivist approach, called CORI (Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction), resulted in better student reading comprehension, cognitive strategies, and motivation.[2]

Jong Suk Kim found that using constructivist teaching methods for 6th graders resulted in better student achievement than traditional teaching methods. This study also found that students preferred constructivist methods over traditional ones. However, Kim did not find any difference in student self-concept or learning strategies between those taught by constructivist or traditional methods.[3]

Doğru and Kalender compared science classrooms using traditional teacher-centered approaches to those using student-centered, constructivist methods. In their initial test of student performance immediately following the lessons, they found no significant difference between traditional and constructivist methods. However, in the follow-up assessment 15 days later, students who learned through constructivist methods showed better retention of knowledge than those who learned through traditional methods.[4]

Criticism of Educational Constructivism

A group of cognitive scientists has questioned the central claims of constructivism, saying that they are either misleading or contradict known findings.[5][6][7][8] Another source attempts to sketch the influence of constructivism in current mathematics and science education, aiming to indicate how pervasive Aristotle's empiricist epistemology is within it and what problems constructivism faces on that account.[9]

Cognitive scientists are not the only ones questioning Constructivism. Other educators are also beginning to question the effectiveness of this approach toward instructional design, especially as it applies to the development of instruction for novices (Mayer, 2004; Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006). While some constructivists argue that "learning by doing" enhances learning, critics of constructivism have argued that little empirical evidence exists to support this statement given novice learners (Mayer, 2004; Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006). Sweller and his colleagues argue that novices do not possess the underlying mental models or "schemas" necessary for "learning by doing" (e.g. Sweller, 1988). Indeed, Mayer (2004) even suggests that fifty years of empirical data do not support using the constructivist teaching technique of pure discovery; in those situations requiring discovery, he argues for the use of guided discovery instead.

While constructivism has great popularity as a philosophy of learning, that doesn't mean that all teaching techniques based on constructivism are efficient or effective for all learners. Mayer (2004) suggests many educators misapply constructivism to use teaching techniques that require learners to be behaviorally active. He describes this inappropriate use of constructivism as the "Constructivist teaching fallacy"... "I refer to this interpretation as the constructivist teaching fallacy because it equates active learning with active teaching" (Mayer, 2004, p.15). Instead, Mayer suggests learners be "cognitively active" during learning and that instructors use "guided practice."

Kirschner, et al (2006) describe constructivist teaching methods as "unguided methods of instruction." They suggest more structured learning activities for learners with little to no prior knowledge. Perhaps because of this proposition the Kirschner, et al (2006) article has been criticized by a number of authors for various reasons.

Criticisms of Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark

Critics argue that the article creates a false dilemma between "guided" and "unguided" instruction without recognizing the continuum of guidance and structure possible within constructivist, problem-based learning, and other methods. [1][10][11] Kirschner et al also group a number of learning theories together (Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based learning), disregarding the differences and actual amount of structure and scaffolding included in the theories.[10][11] Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn have stated that highly scaffolded constructivist teaching methods like problem-based learning and inquiry learning are effective, and the evidence does not support Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark's conclusion.[1] Hmelo-Silver et al argue that Kirschner et al "overlooked" research favorable to problem-based learning. They include in their response a 2003 meta-analysis showing PBL has benefits for knowledge application over traditional curriculum.[1]

In addition, some critics state Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark focus more on learning as memorization rather than learning as behavior change or action. For example, in their article they criticize a project-based learning experiment for medical students because students did not perform as well on a written test as traditionally taught students. However, the medical students demonstrated better clinical skills. Some critics of Kirschner et al have argued that they personally would prefer the better clinical skills, regardless of written test performance.[12]

While there are critics of the Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark article, Sweller and his associates have written in their articles about:

  1. instructional designs for producing procedural learning (learning as behavior change)(Sweller, 1988);
  2. explaining their grouping of seemingly disparate learning theories (Kirschner et al.,2006) and;
  3. explaining a continuum of guidance beginning with worked examples that may be followed by practice, or transitioned to practice (Kalyuga, Ayres, Chandler, and Sweller, 2003; Renkl, Atkinson, Maier, and Staley, 2002)

Kirschner et al (2006) describe worked examples as an instructional design solution for procedural learning. Clark, Nguyen, and Sweller (2006) describe this as a very effective, empirically validated method of teaching learners procedural skill acquisition. Evidence for learning by studying worked-examples, is known as the worked-example effect and has been found to be useful in many domains [e.g. music, chess, athletics (Atkinson, Derry, Renkl, & Wortham, 2000); concept mapping (Hilbert & Renkl, 2007); geometry (Tarmizi and Sweller, 1988); physics, mathematics, or programming (Gerjets, Scheiter, and Catrambone, 2004)].

Kirschner et al (2006) describe why they group a series of seemingly disparate learning theories (Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based learning). The reasoning for this grouping is because each learning theory promotes the same constructivist teaching technique -- "learning by doing." While they argue "learning by doing" is useful for more knowledgeable learners, they argue this constructivist teaching technique is not useful for novices. Mayer states that it promotes behavioral activity too early in the learning process, when learners should be cognitively active (Mayer, 2004).[13]

In addition, Sweller and his associates describe a continuum of guidance, starting with worked examples to slowly fade guidance. This continuum of faded guidance has been tested empirically to produce a series of learning effects: the worked-example effect (Sweller and Cooper, 1985), the guidance fading effect (Renkl, Atkinson, Maier, and Staley, 2002), and the expertise-reversal effect (Kalyuga, Ayres, Chandler, and Sweller, 2003).

Criticism of discovery-based teaching techniques

Mayer (2004)[13] argues against discovery-based teaching techniques and provides an extensive review to support this argument. Mayer's arguments are against pure discovery, and are not specifically aimed as constructivism: "Nothing in this article should be construed as arguing against the view of learning as knowledge construction or against using hands-on inquiry or group discussion that promotes the process of knowledge construction in learners. The main conclusion I draw from the three research literatures I have reviewed is that it would be a mistake to interpret the current constructivist view of learning as a rationale for reviving pure discovery as a method of instruction."[13]

Mayer's concern is the application of discovery-based teaching techniques “For example, a recent replication is research showing that students learn to become better at solving mathematics problems when they study worked-out examples rather than when they solely engage in hands-on problem solving (Sweller, 1999). Today’s proponents of discovery methods, who claim to draw their support from constructivist philosophy, are making inroads into educational practice. Yet a dispassionate review of the relevant research literatures shows that discovery-based practice is not as effective as guided discovery.” (Mayer, 2004, p. 18)

Mayer’s point is that people often misuse constructivism to promote pure discovery-based teaching techniques. He proposes that the instructional design recommendations of constructivism are too often aimed at discovery-based practice (Mayer, 2004). Sweller (1988) found evidence that practice by novices during early schema acquisition, distracts these learners with unnecessary search-based activity, when the learner's attention should be focused on understanding (acquiring schemas).

Constructivist learning environments? ...for which learners?

During the 1990s, several theorists began to study the cognitive load of novices (those with little or no prior knowledge of the subject matter) during problem solving. Cognitive load theory was applied in several contexts (Paas, 1992; Moreno & Mayer, 1999; Mousavi, Low, & Sweller, 1995; Chandler and Sweller, 1992; Sweller & Cooper, 1985; Cooper & Sweller, 1987). Based on the results of their research, these authors do not support the idea of allowing novices to interact with ill-structured learning environments. Ill-structured learning environments rely on the learner to discover problem solutions (Jonassen, 1997). Jonassen (1997) also suggested that novices be taught with "well-structured" learning environments (note the diagram below from Jonassen, Mayes, & McAleese, 1993).


Jonassen (1997) also proposed well-designed, well-structured learning environments provide scaffolding for problem-solving. Finally both Sweller and Jonassen support problem-solving scenarios for more advanced learners (Jonassen, 1997; Kalyuga, Ayres, Chandler, and Sweller, 2003).

Sweller and his associates even suggest well-structured learning environments, like those provided by worked examples, are not effective for those with more experience -- this was later described as the "expertise reversal effect" (Kalyuga et al, 2003). Cognitive load theorists suggest worked examples initially, with a gradual introduction of problem solving scenarios; this is described as the "guidance fading effect" (Renkl, Atkinson, Maier, and Staley, 2002; Sweller, 2003). Each of these ideas provides more evidence for Anderson's ACT-R framework (Clark & Elen, 2006)[14]. This ACT-R framework suggests learning can begin with studying examples.

Finally Mayer states: "Thus, the contribution of psychology is to help move educational reform efforts from the fuzzy and unproductive world of educational ideology—which sometimes hides under the banner of various versions of constructivism—to the sharp and productive world of theory-based research on how people learn." (Mayer, 2004, p.18).

Confusion between constructivist and maturationist views

Many people confuse constructivist with maturationist views. The constructivist (or cognitive-developmental) stream "is based on the idea that the dialectic or interactionist process of development and learning through the student's active construction should be facilitated and promoted by adults" (DeVries et al., 2002). Whereas, "The romantic maturationist stream is based on the idea that the student's naturally occurring development should be allowed to flower without adult interventions in a permissive environment" (DeVries et al., 2002). In other words, adults play an active role in guiding learning in constructivism, while they are expected to allow children to guide themselves in maturationism.

Social constructivism

Main article: Social Constructivism (Learning Theory)

In recent decades, constructivist theorists have extended the traditional focus on individual learning to address collaborative and social dimensions of learning. It is possible to see social constructivism as a bringing together of aspects of the work of Piaget with that of Bruner and Vygotsky (Wood 1998: 39). The term Communal constructivism was introduced by Bryn Holmes in 2001. As described in an early paper, "in this model, students will not simply pass through a course like water through a sieve but instead leave their own imprint in the learning process."[15]

Computer programming and science

Constructivism has influenced the course of programming and computer science. Some famous programming languages have been created, wholly or in part, for educational use, to support the constructionist theory of Papert. These languages have been dynamically typed, and reflective.

  • Logo is a multi-paradigm language, which is an easier-to-read adaptation and dialect of Lisp, without the parentheses. Logo is known for its introduction of turtle graphics to elementary schoolchildren in the 1980s. Its creators were Wally Feurzeig, and Papert.
  • Smalltalk is an object-oriented language that was designed and created at Xerox PARC by a team led by Alan Kay.
  • Etoys is being developed since the 1990s under the direction of Alan Kay, most recently by the Viewpoints Research Institute, based on Morphic tile scripting. Etoys was initially targeted at primary school math and science education.
  • Scratch was developed in the early 21st century at MIT Media Lab under Mitchel Resnick. Like Etoys, it is based on Morphic tile scripts. Scratch is initially targeted at programming interactive multimedia, in primary and secondary education.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Scaffolding and Achievement in Problem-Based and Inquiry Learning: A Response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn. (2007). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99–107
  2. Increasing Reading Comprehension and Engagement Through Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction, Guthrie et al, 2004, Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(3), pp. 403–423
  3. Kim, 2005. The Effects of a Constructivist Teaching Approach on Student Academic Achievement, Self-Concept, and Learning Strategies. Asia Pacific Education Review, 6(1) p7-19
  4. Doğru and Kalender, 2007, Applying the Subject “Cell” Through Constructivist Approach during Science Lessons and the Teacher’s View, Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 2 (1), 3-13
  5. Applications and Misapplications of Cognitive Psychology to Mathematics Education
  6. Constructivism in Science and Mathematics Education, Michael R. Matthews
  7. Research Link / Caution: Constructivism Ahead Holloway, Educational Leadership, 57(3). November 1999.
  8. [ Vygotsky’s philosophy: Constructivism and its criticisms examined] Liu & Matthews, International Education Journal, 2005, 6(3), 386-399.
  9. Journal of Science Education and Technology
  10. 10.0 10.1 Kirschner, Sweller, Clark (2006) Readings, Stephen Downes, November 12, 2007
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