In this unit you will be introduced to many of the issues to understanding and applying Constructivism and Constructivist principles for instructional design purposes. The objectives for this unit are these:
Textbook: Driscoll, Chapters 5, and 11
Available through course website:
Airasian, P. W., & Walsh, M. E. (1997). Constructivist cautions . Phi Delta Kappan , 78(6), 444-449.
Anderson, J. R., Reder, L. M., & Simon, H. A. (1996). Situated learning and education. Educational Researcher, 25 (4), 5-11.
Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18 (1), 32-42.
Greeno, J. G. (1997). On claims that answer the wrong questions. Educational Researcher, 26 (1), 5-17.
Phillips, D. C. (1995). The good, the bad, and the ugly: The many faces of constructivism. Educational Researcher, 24 (7), 5-12.
In this unit we will engage in the still controversial paradigm referred to as Constructivism . Much of the contention has to do with whether Constructivism is a philosophy of knowledge (an epistemological position) or less grand a theory of learning. The lecture notes and readings are meant to help you steer a somewhat steady course through the material, though there's always the chance of an unexpected squall appearing over the horizon. At the very least, you should come away from this unit with a slightly more informed understanding of Constructivism and its current influence on education and instructional design. I say “slightly more” only because the course of a unit by no means can do justice to such a deep, side-taking issue.
What is constructivism?
One thing that can make constructivism difficult to grasp is that sometimes it seems like a philosophy, and sometimes it seems like a set of instructional practices. People may use these two senses of the word constructivism interchangeably, often without being clear about whether they mean one, the other, or both. A goal of this unit is for you to get a better grasp of Constructivism so that you can use the term more precisely. Moreover, it will help you to judge the claims of others who advocate constructivist principles. Muddy thinking on this topic is not an option.
As a philosophy, constructivism suggests that, while there is a real world out there, no meaning is inherent in it. Meaning is imposed by people and cultures. So, for example, one who followed the constructivist philosophy might say that there is nothing inherently correct about the way we classify living things (genus, species, etc.). This classification system is a human invention, and it is subject to revision or replacement. Thus, when we teach this classification system, we should teach it not as fact, but as the current system accepted by scientists. And we should also teach about the process of creating a classification system, not just the end product.
As a set of instructional practices, constructivism favors processes over end products; guided discovery over expository learning; authentic, embedded learning situations over abstracted, artificial ones; portfolio assessments over multiple-choice exams, etc.
Why is this distinction between constructivism as a philosophy (epistemology, to be more accurate) and constructivism as a set of teaching practices important? Because it is very possible that one could be a constructivist philosophically without always using constructivist-teaching methods. A useful analogy is with physics: Newtonian mechanics have been demonstrated to be inadequate and replaced by Einstein-ian mechanics. However, we can continue to use Newtonian laws for many local situations because they work well enough and are simpler. Similarly, I may believe that people must construct their own knowledge--even of objects in the physical world--but I may choose to use relatively didactic approaches for some kinds of learning because it is expedient and works well enough.
On the other hand, someone who espouses an objectivist philosophy (if you can find anyone who admits to it!) would likely agree that constructivist-like teaching approaches are appropriate for areas of “knowing” that are highly divergent, say in the arts, literature, ethics, etc. Can you imagine teaching an ethics course didactically? It would be absurd. You would likely have to acknowledge that an ethical sense is something learners have to develop uniquely, and that the job of the course would be to provide an opportunity to do that with guidance.
Also, keep in mind that believing in a constructivist philosophy or epistemology does not automatically dictate using any particular set of teaching strategies--any more than being a behaviorist automatically dictates using teaching machines. Different learning theories may suggest particular kinds of instructional strategies, but they do not determine them fully. The key point t take away is that one sophisticated in their understanding of the Constructivist worldview (and of the Behaviorist and Cognitivist worldviews, for that matter) will be able to articulate their position while defending strategic choices that are not only informed by this worldview. Consider this to be a pragmatic approach to reconciliation theory and practice. All too often, one encounters an advocate of the Constructivist philosophy who they themselves do not realize their practice often violates these principles. What we are trying to achieve are not purist interpretations of theories, merely researchers and practitioners who realize the limitations of any one particular paradigm.
Influences on constructivist-inspired “theories” of instruction and learning
Constructivism, of course, did not simply spring up out of nowhere. In addition to the historical antecedents that your text discusses, constructivism seems to be related to a number of other ideas from the “cultures” of education, psychology, and other fields. These include the following:
Lesson 6.1: summary & analysis
Concisely summarize what you have read and learned in this unit. Below are help and directions for completing this assignment.