Constructivism (philosophy of education)
Constructivism, as perspective in education, is based on experiential learning through real life experience to construct and conditionalize knowledge. It is problem-based, adaptive learning that challenges faulty schema, integrates new knowledge with existing knowledge, and allows for creation of original work or innovative procedures. The types of learners are self-directed, creative, innovative, drawing upon visual/spatial, musical/rhythmic, bodily kinesthetic, verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic intelligences. The purpose in education is to become creative and innovative through analysis, conceptualizations, and synthesis of prior experience to create new knowledge. The educator’s role is to mentor the learner during heuristic problem solving of ill-defined problems by enabling quested learning. The learning goal is the highest order of learning: heuristic problem solving, metacognitive knowledge, creativity, and originality that may modify existing knowledge and allow for creation of new knowledge. Exemplars of constructivist perspective may be found in the works of John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and David Kolb.
Constructivism influences Instructional theory by encouraging discovery learning, hands-on learning, experiential learning, collaborative learning, project-based learning, and task-based learning. Constructivist epistemology, as a branch of the philosophy of science, offers an explanation of how human beings construct knowledge from information generated by previous experiences (heuristic knowledge). It has roots in cognitive psychology and biology and is an approach to education that lays emphasis on the ways knowledge is created while exploring the world.
- 1 Constructivists
- 2 Historical and theoretical roots
- 3 Applications of Constructivism
- 4 Criticism of discovery-based teaching techniques
- 5 Confusion between views
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
- John Dewey (1859-1952)
- Maria Montessori (1870–1952)
- Heinz von Foerster (1911–2002)
- Ernst von Glasersfeld (1917–2010)
- Paul Watzlawick (1921–2007)
- David A. Kolb (1939–)
Historical and theoretical roots
A 1982 paper by communication scholars Jessie Delia, Barbara O'Keefe, and Daniel O'Keefe  categorizes the philosophy of constructivism as having an interpretive orientation. The authors identified their new philosophy of constructivism as sharing some, but not all, of the beliefs associated with the following earlier theories: Cicourel's cognitive sociology, Schütz's phenomenological social theory, Kelly's personal construct theory, Blumer's symbolic interactionism and Williams's Marxist cultural theory.
Multiple strands of the Constructivist epistemology exist. Two of these strands, Cognitive constructivism and Social constructivism, are different in emphasis, but share common perspectives about teaching and learning. Jonassen's (1994) description of the general characteristics of constructivist learning environments is a succinct summary of the constructivist perspective. Jonassen proposed that there are eight characteristics that differentiate constructivist learning environments:
- Constructivist learning environments provide multiple representations of reality.
- Multiple representations avoid oversimplification and represent the complexity of the real world.
- Constructivist learning environments emphasize knowledge construction instead of knowledge reproduction.
- Constructivist learning environments emphasize authentic tasks in a meaningful context rather than abstract instruction out of context.
- Constructivist learning environments provide learning environments such as real-world settings or case-based learning instead of predetermined sequences of instruction.
- Constructivist learning environments encourage thoughtful reflection on experience.
- Constructivist learning environments "enable context- and content- dependent knowledge construction."
- Constructivist learning environments support "collaborative construction of knowledge through social negotiation, not competition among learners for recognition.
While both social and cognitive constructivists would support Jonassen's eight characteristics, they would differ in the emphasis each strand places on the characteristics.
According to Kliebard, John Dewey created an active intellectual learning environment in his laboratory school, which existed between 1896 and 1904. The neuroscientist James Zull has argued that the sort of active learning Dewey fostered is the way people naturally learn. Active learning conditionalizes knowledge through experiential learning. Smith writes that John Dewey believed education must engage with and expand experience; those methods used to educate must provide for exploration, thinking, and reflection; and that interaction with the environment is necessary for learning; also, that democracy should be upheld in the educational process. Dewey advocates the learning process of experiential learning through real life experience to construct and conditionalize knowledge, which is consistent with the Constructivists. Dewey re-imagined the way that the learning process should take place as well as the role that the teacher should play within that process. According to Dewey, the teacher should not stand at the front of the room doling out bits of information to be absorbed by passive students. Instead, the teacher's role should be that of facilitator and guide. As Dewey  explains it:
The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these. Thus the teacher becomes a partner in the learning process, guiding students to independently discover meaning within the subject area.
 John Dewey was actively and directly involved in setting up educational institutions such as the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools  and The New School for Social Research. Many of Dewey's ideas influenced the founding of Bennington College and Goddard College where he served on the Board of Trustees. Dewey's works and philosophy also held great influence in the creation of the Black Mountain College in North Carolina, an experimental college focused on interdisciplinary study. Faculty at the Black Mountain College included Buckminster Fuller, Willem de Kooning, Charles Olson, Franz Kline, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Paul Goodman.
Maria Montessori’s key points contribute to both Humanism and Constructivism. However, she emphasizes the value of experiential learning to conditionalize knowledge:
Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.
 Montessori’s beliefs are consistent with the Constructivists in that she advocates a learning process which allows a student to experience an environment first-hand; thereby, giving the student reliable, trust-worthy knowledge. While working with children in the Casa dei Bambini in 1907, Montessori began to develop her own instructional theory. The essential elements of her educational theory are described in The Montessori Method in 1912 and in The Discovery of the Child in 1948. Her method was founded on the observation of children at liberty to act freely in an environment that was prepared to meet their needs. Montessori came to the conclusion that the children's spontaneous activity in this environment revealed an internal program of development that an educator could enhance by removing obstacles to their natural development; thereby, providing opportunities for their natural development to proceed and flourish. Accordingly, the schoolroom was quipped with child-sized furnishings; included practical life activities such as sweeping and washing tables; and included teaching material developed by Montessori. Children were given the freedom to choose and carry out their own activities, at their own paces, and following their own inclinations. In these conditions, Montessori made a number of observations which became the foundation of her work. First, she observed great concentration in the children and spontaneous repetition of chosen activities. She also observed a strong tendency in the children to order their own environment, straightening tables and shelves, and ordering materials. As children chose some activities over others, Montessori refined the materials she offered to them. Over time, the children began to exhibit what she called "spontaneous discipline". David Kolb, in his books Learning Style Inventory Technical Manual and Experiential Learning, emphasizes the importance of conditionalized knowledge through experiential learning.
David A. Kolb and Roger Fry created the Kolb & Fry Model out of four elements: concrete experience, observation-reflection, the formation of abstract concepts, and testing in new situations. They represented these in the famous experiential learning circle (after Kurt Lewin). Kolb and Fry  argue that the learning cycle can begin at any point, and that it should really be approached as a continuous spiral. Kolb’s beliefs are consistent with the Constructivists in that he includes Concrete Experience as part of the learning process and requires a student to test knowledge by acting upon the environment; thereby, giving the student reliable, trust-worthy [conditionalized] knowledge. The Kolb & Fry model complements other models and parallels research done by neuroscientist. They suggest that the learning process often begins with a person carrying out a particular action and then seeing the effect of the action in this situation. Following this, the second step is to understand these effects in the particular instance, so that, if the same action were taken in the same circumstances, it would be possible to anticipate what would follow from the action. In this pattern, the third step would be to understand the general principle under which the particular instance falls. Kolb’s beliefs are consistent with the Constructivists in that he includes Concrete Experience as part of the learning process and requires a student to test knowledge by acting upon the environment, thereby, giving the student reliable, trust-worthy conditionalized knowledge. Kolb’s work closely parallels recent work in the field of neuroscience.
As Ernst von Glasersfeld has said “knowledge is the result of an individual subject’s constructive activity, not a commodity that somehow resides outside the know-er and can be conveyed or instilled by diligent perception or linguistic communication.”  The constructivist movement abandons the traditional philosophical position of realism according to which knowledge has to be a representation of an essential reality. Constructivism adopts the relativist position that knowledge is something which is personally constructed by individuals in an active way as they try to give meaning to socially accepted and shared notions.
The nature of the learner
The type of learner is self-directed, creative, and innovative. The purpose in education is to become creative and innovative through analysis, conceptualizations, and synthesis of prior experience to create new knowledge. The learning goals are proficiency in higher-order cognitive functions: heuristic problem solving, metacognitive knowledge, creativity, and originality. Constructivism not only acknowledges the uniqueness and complexity of the learner, but actually encourages, utilizes, and rewards it as an integral part of the learning process. Constructivism encourages the learner to arrive at his or her 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 life experiences influence a learner's schema.
Constructivism emphasizes the importance of the learner being actively involved in the learning process . Another crucial assumption regarding the nature of the learner concerns the level and source of motivation for learning. According to Von Glasersfeld  sustaining motivation to learn is strongly dependent on the learner’s confidence in his or her potential for learning. The belief in their own potential to solve new problems,a feelings of competence, is derived from first-hand experience mastering problem solving, which is more powerful than any external motivator.
In adult learning, methods must take account of differences in learning due to the adults' well developed schema (adults have more life experiences) resulting in well developed neurological structures. Personal relevance of the content, involvement of the learner in the process, and deep understanding of underlying concepts are some of the aspects of constructivism relevant to the advanced instructional theories of andragogy or heutagogy . In contrast, controlled studies uniformly supports direct, strong instructional guidance rather than minimal guidance during the instruction of novice to intermediate learners. Young students with considerable prior knowledge may require strong guidance while learning. Even though constructivist methods are often found to be equally effective to other approaches there is evidence that unguided approaches may have negative results when students acquire misconceptions or incomplete or disorganized knowledge.
Mayer's  arguments against pure discovery are not specifically aimed at 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."
 Mayer's concern is how one applies discovery-based teaching techniques. 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. Today’s proponents of discovery methods, who claim to draw their support from constructivist philosophy, are making inroads into educational practice, but Mayer’s point is that people often misuse constructivism to promote pure discovery-based teaching techniques. Sweller  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).
The role of the instructor
The educator’s role is to mentor the learner during heuristic problem solving of ill-defined problems by enabling quested learning that may modify existing knowledge and allow for creation of new knowledge. Instructors are facilitators rather than teachers. Where a teacher gives a didactic lecture that 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 or the content and towards the learner. This change of role implies that a facilitator needs to display a different set of skills than a traditional teacher. 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.
The learning environment
The learning environments (e.g. laboratories, studios, and workshops) are designed to support and challenge the learner's thinking. According to Montessori, the task of the instructor is to prepare a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refrain from obtrusive interference. Savery 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 structures the learning experience to make certain that the students receive clear guidance and parameters to achieve the learning objectives, yet the learning experience should be open and free to allow the learners to discover, enjoy, interact, and arrive at their own socially verified version of truth.
The nature of the learning process
Approaches based on constructivism stress the importance of mechanisms for mutual planning, identifying learner needs and interests, a cooperative learning climate, sequential activities for achieving objectives, then the formulation of learning objectives based on the diagnosed needs and interests. Some strategies for cooperative learning include reciprocal questioning, where students work together to ask and answer questions, jigsaw classroom, where students become "experts" on one part of a group project and teach it to the others in their group, and structured controversies where students work together to research a particular controversy. A premise of constructivism is the ability to construct person-centered messages to accomplish one’s goal. Griffin explains a person-centered message is a “tailor-made message for a specific individual and context.”  If one is able to carry through with their person-centered message then they are able to manipulate their original message in mind and adjust it to whatever level the person they are talking to will best understand it. problem-based learning follows a constructivist perspective in learning since the role of the instructor is to guide and challenge the learning process. Students learn about a subject through the experience of problem solving. It is important to achieve the right balance between the degree of structure and flexibility that is built into the learning process. Learners should learn to discover principles, concepts, and facts for themselves. Learning is viewed as active, where guesswork and intuitive thinking are encouraged. Learners with different skills and backgrounds are encouraged to collaborate in tasks and discussions to arrive at a shared understanding of the truth. Students also learn by teaching. Philosophically, the real is not there to be found, it does not pre-exist, the learner's reality exits only in the context of the learner's experiences. Kukla posits that people, together, construct what is real through actions as members of a group; thereby, inventing the properties of the world. Other constructivist scholars agree with this and hold that we make meanings through acting with each other and the environment. Knowledge is thus a product of humans, a product of our social nature, and a product of our culture. Another characteristic of the learning process is that the instructor and the learners are equally involved in learning from one another. The learning experience is both subjective and objective requiring the instructor’s culture, values, and background to become an essential element in associating learners and tasks. To get to a new, socially tested, version of truth learners compare their version of the truth with that of the instructor and fellow learners. The task or problem is thus the interface between the instructor and the learner, creating a dynamic interaction between task, instructor, and learner. Learners and instructors develop an awareness of each other's viewpoints, looking to their own beliefs, standards and values, becoming both subjective and objective. Some interactive learning approaches include reciprocal teaching, peer collaboration, cognitive apprenticeship, problem-based instruction, web quests, and anchored instruction. Holt and Willard-Holt  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 a single 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 dialogue with the persons being assessed to establish their current level of performance and share with them ways that performance might be improved. Assessment and learning are seen as inextricably linked and not separate processes. 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 the quality of the course ware. Knowledge is discovered as an integrated whole and not divided into different subjects or compartments but discovered as an integrated whole. Emphasizing the importance of the context in which learning is presented. 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. Learners are constantly challenged with tasks that refer to skills and knowledge just beyond their current level of mastery. This captures their motivation and builds on previous successes to enhance learner confidence. 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. 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. 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 that reflects their own belief systems, their thoughts and feelings about both the content of their instruction and their learners. 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.
Applications of Constructivism
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Role Category Questionnaire
An important key in Constructivism is the idea of the RCQ which stands for Role Category Questionnaire. This tool is a questionnaire or survey that is designed to reveal individual’s cognitive complexity in accordance to their interpersonal perception. To take this one step further it is important to define exactly what cognitive complexity is. In this case cognitive complexity is the degree of ability to distinguish between personalities, no matter how obvious the personality difference may be or how minute the personality difference may be. When someone has a high level of cognitive complexity they are able to put themselves in that person’s shoes and relate to them on their level, as well as better understanding the events happening around them. Researchers believe that those with more sets of constructs have an advantage of social perception skills compared to those who have only a small amount of constructs to interpret people with (Griffin 99). Delia and Burleson (constructivist theorists) define two types of people: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t (Griffin 100). If we use this as our base then those who only view the world made up of one type of person can be coined as lackluster. Those who view more than one type of person in the world are a notch above the rest, elevated human beings able to distinguish the different characteristics amongst those they interact with. It is the degree of differences that are tested upon with the RCQ, revealing how intricate and complicated the person’s mind is (Griffin 100).
Criticism of discovery-based teaching techniques
Controlled studies uniformly supports direct, strong instructional guidance rather than minimal guidance during the instruction of novice to intermediate learners. Even for students with considerable prior knowledge, strong guidance while learning is most often found to be equally effective as unguided approaches. However, there is evidence that unguided approaches may have negative results when student acquire misconceptions or incomplete or disorganized knowledge  Mayer  argues against discovery-based teaching techniques and provides an extensive review to support his argument. Mayer's arguments are against pure discovery, and are not specifically aimed at 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." Mayer's concern is how one applies discovery-based teaching techniques. 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. Today’s proponents of discovery methods, who claim to draw their support from constructivist philosophy, are making inroads into educational practice. 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. Sweller  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). The study by Kirschner et al. from which the quote at the beginning of this section was taken has been widely cited and is important for showing the limits of minimally guided instruction. Hmelo-Silver et al. responded, pointing out that Kirschner et al. conflated constructivist teaching techniques such as inquiry learning with "discovery learning". (See the preceding two sections of this article.) This would agree with Mayer's viewpoint that even though constructivism as a theory and teaching techniques incorporating guidance are likely valid applications of this theory, nevertheless a tradition of misunderstanding has led to some question "pure discovery" techniques. The argument between the use or working memory and long term memory is also important to focus on in this reference, as it argues one of the main beliefs of constructivism itself that one derives new ideas from past knowledge. "Any instructional theory that ignores the limits of working memory when dealing with novel information or ignores the disappearance of those limits when dealing with familiar information is unlikely to be effective."  This contrasts the belief that one can build upon ideas that are recently attained, yet also rejects the idea that one can't combine the two.
Criticism by cognitive psychologists
Several cognitive psychologists and educators have questioned the central claims of constructivism. It is argued that constructivist theories are misleading or contradict known findings. Matthews (1993) 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. In the neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development it is maintained that learning at any age depends upon the processing and representational resources available at this particular age. That is, it is maintained that if the requirements of the concept to be understood exceeds the available processing efficiency and working memory resources then the concept is by definition not learnable. This attitude toward learning impedes the learner from understanding essential theoretical concepts or, in other words, reasoning. Therefore, no matter how active a child is during learning, to learn the child must operate in a learning environment that meets the developmental and individual learning constraints that are characteristic for the child's age and this child's possible deviations from her age's norm. If this condition is not met, construction goes astray. Several educators have also questioned 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 this instructional strategy argue 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) reviewed the literature and found 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.Mayer (2004) argues that not all teaching techniques based on constructivism are efficient or effective for all learners, suggesting 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 proposes learners should be "cognitively active" during learning and that instructors use "guided practice."In contrast, 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. Slezak states that constructivism "is an example of fashionable but thoroughly problematic doctrines that can have little benefit for practical pedagogy or teacher education."  and similar views have been stated by Meyer, Boden, Quale and others.Kirschner et al. group a number of learning theories together (Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based learning) and stated that highly scaffolded constructivist methods like problem-based learning and inquiry learning are ineffective. Kirschner et al. described several research studies that were favorable to problem-based learning given learners were provide some level of guidance and support. Guidance as a strategy While there are critics of the Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark article, Sweller and his associates cover:
- instructional designs for producing procedural learning (learning as behavior change) (Sweller, 1988);
- their grouping of seemingly disparate learning theories (Kirschner et al., 2006) and;
- 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 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). 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).
The math wars and discovery-based teaching techniques and technology
The math wars controversy in the United States is an example of the type of heated debate that sometimes follows the implementation of constructivist-inspired curricula in schools. In the 1990s, mathematics textbooks based on new standards largely informed by constructivism were developed and promoted with government support. Although constructivist theory does not require eliminating instruction entirely, some textbooks seemed to recommend this extreme. Some parents and mathematicians protested the design of textbooks that omitted or de-emphasized instruction of standard mathematical methods. Supporters responded that the methods were to be eventually discovered under direction by the teacher, but since this was missing or unclear, many insisted the textbooks were designed to deliberately eliminate instruction of standard methods. In one commonly adopted text, the standard formula for the area of a circle is to be derived in the classroom, but not actually printed in the student textbook as is explained by the developers of CMP: "The student role of formulating, representing, clarifying, communicating, and reflecting on ideas leads to an increase in learning. If the format of the texts included many worked examples, the student role would then become merely reproducing these examples with small modifications." Similarly, this approach has been applied to reading with whole language and inquiry-based science that emphasizes the importance of devising rather than just performing hands-on experiments as early as the elementary grades, rather than studying facts.In other areas of curriculum such as social studies and writing are relying more on "higher order thinking skills" rather than memorization of dates, grammar or spelling rules or reciting correct answers. Advocates of this approach counter that the constructivism does not require going to extremes, that in fact teachable moments should regularly infuse the experience with the more traditional teaching. The primary differentiation from the traditional approach being that the engagement of the students in their learning makes them more receptive to learning things at an appropriate time, rather than on a preset schedule.
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.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; luga, 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). 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 views
Many people confuse Constructivist (learning theory) with social constructivism. Constructivist learning theory is associated with high order learning of mature learners, androgogy or heutagogy, not early learning as discussed by the Cognitivist, Piaget or Vygotsky, whose research focused on children and sequential learning. Social constructivism is not congruent with the Constructivist learning theory. Dewey, Montessori, and Kolb represent the Constructivist learning theory where experiential learning occurs through real life experience to construct and conditionalize knowledge, and a mentor guides the mature learner. Piaget, Bruner, and Vygotsky are Cognitivists who work with young children and base their learning theories upon sequential development of mental processes scaffolded by an instructor. In recent decades, 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 developed by Leask and Younie (2001) through their research on the European School Net project which demonstrated the value of peer to peer learning i.e. communal construction of new knowledge rather than social construction of knowledge as described by Vygotsky where there is a learner to teacher scaffolding relationship. Bryn Holmes in 2001 applied this to student learning 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."
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- Cognitively Guided Instruction reviewed on the Promising Practices Network
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- Cognitive Flexibility Theory, a constructivist learning theory by Michigan State University
- Sample Online Activity Objects Designed with Constructivist Approach (2007)
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