Constructivist Learning Theory

Constructivism is a meta-concept. It is not just another way of knowing, but a way of thinking about knowing. It is a theory of communication and suggests that each listener or reader will potentially use the content and process of the communication in different ways.
There are numerous constructivist perspectives, and the common thread that unites them is that learning is an active process, unique to the individual, and consists of constructing conceptual relationships and meaning from information and experiences already in the learner's repertoire.

The core ideas were mentioned by John Dewey, so it is not a new idea.

Constructivism claims that each learner constructs knowledge individually and socially. The "glue" that holds the constructs together is meaning. Knowledge is not "out there", as the realist philosophers such as Plato claimed. Knowledge is always an interpretation of reality, not a "true" representation of it.

Constructivism, Constructivist Learning Theory, CTET 2015 Exam Notes, KVS, DSSSB Study Material, CTET, NET PDF NOTES DOWNLOAD.Main Contributors to Constructivism

David Ausubel Subsumption Theory
Jerome Bruner Constructivism
Piaget Genetic Epistemology
Lave Situated Cognition
Argyris Double Loop Learning
Spiro Cognitive Flexibility
Kolb Learning Styles
Flavell Metacognition
Schank Script Theory

Principles of Constructivist Learning

1. The learner uses sensory input and does something with it, ultimately making meaning of it.
2. Learning consists of both constructing meaning and constructing systems of meaning. Learning is layered.
3. Learning occurs in the mind. Physical activity may be necessary, but is not sufficient alone.
4. Learning involves language. Vygotsky believed that language and learning are inextricably intermeshed.
5. Learning is a social activity.
6. Learning is contextual. We do not isolate facts from the situations and environments in which they are relevant
7. Knowledge is necessary for learning. It is the basis of structure and meaning-making. The more we know, the more we can learn.
8. Learning takes time; it is not spontaneous. Learners go over information, ponder them, use them, practice, experiment.
9. Motivation is a necessary component, because it causes the learner's sensory apparatus to be activated. Relevance, curiosity, fun, accomplishment, achievement, external rewards and other motivators facilitate ease of learning.

Schools of Constructivism

Trivial (Cognitive) Constructivism

The concept that knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, not passively received by the environment. Derived from the assimilation - accommodation and schema models of Piaget.

Radical Constructivism

Derived from Von Glaserfeld (1990). Von Glaserfeld put forth the notion that the learner's constructions do not necessarily reflect knowledge of a “real world.” Coming to know is a process of dynamic adaptation toward viable interpretations of experiences. We have no way of knowing what “real” reality might be, since input is filtered. Previous constructs also influence our perceptions of current experience. We construct “viable” models of what reality is based on social and physical constraints.

Social Constructivism

This was the theory of Vygotsky in the late 1970's. Vygotsky's point of view was that acquisition and participation were synergistic strategies in learning situations. Aspects of participation involved teaching in contexts that could be meaningful to students based on their personal and social history, negotiating, class discussions, small group collaborative learning with projects and tasks, and valuing meaningful activity over correct answers. Social Constructivism emphasizes that learning takes place through interactions with other students, teachers, and the world-at-large. (Vygotsky)

Cultural Constructivism

Brings in a wider context to learning, including customs, religion, language, physiology, tools available (Computers, books, etc.). Tools are used to redistribute the cognitive load between the learner and the tool, and can affect the mind beyond actual use by changing one's skills, perspectives, and responses.

Critical Constructivism

Critical Constructivism adds a dimension of critical evaluation and cultural reform to the educational process. This approach incorporates the use of Communicative Ethics which defines the conditions for establishing dialog oriented toward mutual understanding among learners and teachers. Communicative Ethics promotes (1) primary concern for maintaining empathetic, caring, and trusting relationships, (2) commitment to achieve reciprocal understanding of goals, interests and standards, and (3) concern for and critical awareness of the often-invisible rules of the classroom, including social and cultural myths.

Prevalent myths in today's educational system include (1) Cold reason, the notion of knowledge as eternal truth, teacher as transmitter of objective truths, and curriculum as a product which is delivered, and (2) Hard control, the perspective of teacher as controller, in which there is a power differential between teacher and learners, and a dominance-subordinate relationship.

Tenets of Constructivism for course design (Presuppositions from Bruner)

  • Students come with a world view 
  • Their world view acts as a filter to all their experiences and incoming observations 
  • Changing a world view takes work 
  • Students learn from other students and the teacher 
  • Students learn by doing 
  • When all participants have a voice, construction of new ideas is promoted
  • Constructivism works best when the learner prepares something for others to see or hear. When the learner prepares visuals such as text, graphics, web sites, or activities in which another can participate, or endeavors to explain material to other students, or works in a group context, leaning is especially powerful. 

Nine Characteristics of a Constructivist Teacher

  1. Teacher serves as one of many resources for students, not necessarily the primary source of information. 
  2. The teacher engages students in experiences that challenge previous conceptions of their existing knowledge. 
  3. The teacher uses student responses in the planning of next lessons and seeks elaboration of students' initial responses. 
  4. The teacher encourages questions and discussion among students by asking open-ended questions. 
  5. The teacher assists students to understand their own cognitive processes (metacognition) by using cognitive terminology such as classify, analyze, create, organize, hierarchy, etc. when framing tasks. 
  6. The teacher encourages and accepts student autonomy and initiative by being willing to let go of classroom control 
  7. The teacher makes available raw data and primary resources, along with manipulative and interactive physical materials. 
  8. The teacher does not separate knowing from the process of finding out. Nouns and verbs. 
  9. The teacher facilitates clear communication from students in writing and verbal responses, from the point of view that communication comes from ones deep structural understanding of the concepts being communicated. When they can communicate clearly and meaningfully, they have truly integrated the new learning. 

Principles of constructivist course design:

  • Maintain a buffer between the learner and potentially damaging effects of instructional practices. Emphasize the affective domain, make instruction relevant to the learner, help learners develop attitudes and beliefs that ill support both present learning and lifelong learning, and balance teacher-control with personal autonomy in the learning environment. 
  • Provide contexts for both autonomous learning and learning within relationships to other students. Group discussion, projects, collaboration as well as independent. 
  • Provide reasons for learning within the learning activities themselves. Have students identify relevance and purpose. 
  • Promote and make conscious the skills and attitudes that enable a learner to assume responsibility for his/her cognitive and developmental processes. 
  • Use the strategic exploration of errors to strengthen the learners involvement with intentional learning processes and self-feedback.

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