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Introduction to Constructivism

Introduction to Constructivism

Author: Jody Waltman

In this module, you will learn about the constructivist theory and what it looks like in the classroom.

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This tutorial will introduce you to the theory of constructivism. We'll begin by exploring the history and definition of constructivism, and we'll list the key elements of learning in constructivist theory. We'll identify some of the benefits of constructivism, and we'll compare and contrast constructivism and traditional learning.

Finally, we'll suggest some best practices and tips if you are going to incorporate elements of constructivism in your own classroom. Let's get started. What is constructivism? Constructivist theory is based on the work of Jean Piaget, who theorized that learning is an active process. He explained that when presented with new information, we construct our own understanding of that information. And this unique understanding is based on our own personal experiences and prior knowledge.

Furthermore, he theorized that we use cognitive structures-- for example schema or mental models-- to transform and organize that information, to generate hypotheses, and to infer meaning from new knowledge. Another influential name in constructivist theory is Vygotsky, who focused his studies on the roles of social interaction, language, and culture as they affect a child's cognitive development.

So, building on the work of Piaget and Vygotsky, we can identify some key elements of learning that should be present in constructivism. Learning theorist Jerome Bruner identified four key elements that we should consider in our instruction. First, we should assume that our students are indeed predisposed to learn. Second, the knowledge itself should be structured for easy comprehension. Third, new information should be presented to students in a logically sequenced order. And fourth, we need to carefully consider effective use of rewards and punishments throughout our instruction.

In a constructivist environment, students should be encouraged to discover principles, to simplify information, generate propositions, and to manipulate new information effectively. In order to guide students along this path, the teacher is responsible for formatting the information appropriately, with a spiral order usually suggested. And the teacher should also be engaging in meaningful discussion with students throughout the process.

Why might you consider implementing constructivist theories in your classroom? For starters, learning is simply more enjoyable when the learner is active rather than passive. Constructivism focuses on understanding of information, not memorization of facts or figures. Constructivist learning and skills are both applicable outside of the classroom as well as in the classroom. And students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning as they are investigating questions and generating hypotheses.

The assessment used in constructivism is more engaging than traditional assessments. Consequently, learners are more likely to retain that information and to transfer that knowledge into their world outside of school. Finally, social skills and communication skills need to be used effectively in a constructivist environment. Collaboration is encouraged as well, creating even more skills that students can bring outside of the classroom.

Let's compare the idea of constructivism with the traditional behaviorist theory of learning. In constructivism, learning is constructed based on prior knowledge and experiences. In contrast, in behaviorism, learning is assumed to happen as a result of a stimulus and response cycle. In constructivism, the focus is on relevant, real-world problems and using communication skills to solve those problems.

In behaviorism, meanwhile, the focus is on the practice and reinforcement of memorized information. What is typically rewarded in this environment is an increased ability to respond to questions more quickly with those memorized responses. In constructivism, reflection on both past experiences and new learning is considered an essential part of the learning process. In behaviorism, there is the element of transferring learned knowledge to new situations, but the reflection element is not necessarily present.

If you were considering incorporating elements of constructivist theory into your classroom, here are some best practices and tips. Be aware of your students' readiness to learn the new material. Your instruction should be aligned with students' prior experiences and their unique situations. It's recommended that you use a spiral organization of information. Research suggests that this type of organization encourages easy acquisition and retention of new skills.

Your instruction should encourage students to go beyond the information that you're giving. Ask them to hypothesize and generalize about the new information. And finally, it's necessary to incorporate collaboration whenever possible, since a key element of the constructivist theory is that social interaction and language play important roles in students' development.

In this tutorial, we learned about the history and definition of constructivism, including the contributions of Jean Piaget and Vygotsky, and we identified the key elements of learning in constructivist theory as described by Jerome Bruner. We outlined some of the benefits of constructivism, and we compared constructivism to the traditional behaviorist learning environment. Finally, we discussed a few best practices and tips that you can consider as you implement constructivism in your classroom.

Now it's your turn to stop and reflect. Might you consider the four key elements of learning in constructivism as you're designing your instruction? Might the constructivist focus on thinking and understanding instead of memorization help support the educational goals in your classroom?

As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the Additional Resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Introduction to Constructivism"

(00:00 - 00:33) Introduction

(00:34 - 01:20) History and Definition

(01:21 - 02:29) Elements of Learning

(02:30 - 03:30) Benefits

(03:31 - 04:36) Constructivism vs Traditional Learning

(04:37 - 05:32) Best Practices and Tips

(05:33 - 06:04) Review

(06:05 - 06:41) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Technology

This wiki connects the research on cognition with its implications for pedagogy in a technology-rich classroom. Scroll down to click on a link related to the concept of your choice for detailed explanations as well as examples of what the theory or strategy looks like in the classroom. Note that there are pages dedicated to constructivism, behaviorism, problem based learning, and inquiry that are relevant to the work in this course.

Behaviorism Wiki Page

This page is dedicated to behaviorism and how it applies to teaching and learning. Scroll down to learn about the educational implications and strategies that you can use in your classroom.

Education Theory: Constructivism and Social Constructivism in the Classroom

This page provides a concise overview with examples of application, and clearly defines the roles of the teacher and the student in a constructivist setting. Additionally, it provides a clear explanation of how assessment looks in a constructivist classroom.