The Basics of Constructivism
Bartlett (1932) pioneered what became the
constructivist approach (Good & Brophy, 1990). Constructivists believe that
"learners construct their own reality or at least interpret it based upon
their perceptions of experiences, so an individual's knowledge is a function of
one's prior experiences, mental structures, and beliefs that are used to
interpret objects and events." "What someone knows is grounded in
perception of the physical and social experiences which are comprehended by the
mind." (Jonasson, 1991).
If each person has their own view about reality, then
how can we as a society communicate and/or coexist? Jonassen, addressing this
issue in his article Thinking Technology: Toward a Constructivist Design
Model, makes the following comments:
- "Perhaps the most common misconception of constructivism is the
inference that we each therefore construct a unique reality, that reality is
only in the mind of the knower, which will doubtlessly lead to intellectual
- "A reasonable response to that criticism is the Gibsonian perspective
that contends that there exists a physical world that is subject to physical
laws that we all know in pretty much the same way because those physical
laws are perceivable by humans in pretty much the same way."
- "Constructivists also believe that much of reality is shared through
a process of social negotiation..."
If one searches through the many philosophical and
psychological theories of the past, the threads of constructivism may be found
in the writing of such people as Bruner, Ulrick, Neiser, Goodman, Kant, Kuhn,
Dewey and Habermas. The most profound influence was Jean Piaget's work which was
interpreted and extended by von Glasserfield (Smorgansbord, 1997).
Realistic vs. Radical Construction
Realistic constructivism - cognition is the process by which learners
eventually construct mental structures that correspond to or match external
structures located in the environment.
Radical constructivism - cognition serves to organize the learners
experiential world rather than to discover ontological reality
(Cobb, 1996, in Smorgansbord, 1997).
The Assumptions of Constructivism - Merrill
- knowledge is constructed from experience
- learning is a personal interpretation of the world
- learning is an active process in which meaning is developed on the basis
- conceptual growth comes from the negotiation of meaning, the sharing of
multiple perspectives and the changing of our internal representations
through collaborative learning
- learning should be situated in realistic settings; testing should be
integrated with the task and not a separate activity
(Merrill, 1991, in Smorgansbord, 1997)
It Boggles the Mind!
If you are reading about learning theories, you may notice that it is
difficult to pin down what theory a certain theorist belongs to. This
can confuse you, since, just as you think you have it cased, a name you
originally thought was in the behavioral category shows up in a
This problem is often the result of theorists and their ideas
evolving over time and changes they make to their original ideas.
Davidson includes the following example in an article she wrote:
"Considered by most to be representative of [a] behaviourist
learning paradigm, Gagne's theory of learning and events of instruction
have evolved progressively to approach a more cognitive theory. His
discussion of relating present information and past knowledge (event #3)
and the inclusion of learning transfer (event#9) are indicative of this
shift toward constructivism." (Davidson, 1998)
Mergel, B., (1998), Instructional Design & Learning
Theory, University of Saskatchewan