An learning theory that empowers learners and transforms the teacher into a coach.
What is Constructivism?
Constructivism is a learning theory that is learner-centric. Rather than knowledge being acquired solely from a teacher, the focus is on facilitation, where the learner is active and constructs knowledge from interactions with their peers, teachers, available information, and their own context and experiences.
Constructivism is rooted in Lev Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory that states people learn from each other, benefit from a ‘more knowledgeable other’ – such as a coach or mentor, and outlines a zone of proximal development. This zone specifies the gap between a skill that is just above the capabilities of the learner but within their potential if they are guided sufficiently.
Why is Constructivism used?
People learn through experience and reflection. New experiences are reflected against old ones and learners construct new knowledge based on these interactions. This learning is enhanced in a collaborative situation, where learners can pick up strategies and methods for learning something from their peers and test their understanding in a public forum. In addition, they can be guided by their teacher who takes on a mentor or coach role. The coach can provide scaffolding to the learner and gradually withdraw support as competence is acquired.
The benefits include a learner that is engaged, active in the learning process, and is granted greater autonomy. The result is greater buy-in to the learning process.
However, Constructivism can be problematic for novice learners, with Cognitivists believing an increased cognitive load and lack of schemas actually hinders the learning process. It could be argued that Constructivism is more suited to the higher learning levels of Bloom’s taxonomy that cover higher order thinking skills.
How can Constructivism be utilised?
By using Constructivist strategies, you are empowering your learners to learn from and with others. Methods to implement these strategies include:
- Keep a learner-focus, pose questions and problems that need addressing
- Encourage active learning — focus on doing rather than knowing
- Use collaborative group work
- Contextualise the learning
- Use case studies with primary sources that learners have to manipulate
- Use with higher order thinking skills where learners will need to analyse, predict, and create
- Provide social media platforms for learners to engage with
- Allow learners to test their understanding through social interactions
- Provide open navigation in your digital learning materials
- Promote the use of online discussion forums
- Utilise the trainer as a mentor or coach
By using these strategies, you provide learners with tools to collaborate and test their understanding with others.
Pros: Greater learner autonomy with the benefit of learning from and with others. Learner can receive support and guidance from a coach.
Cons: Can be difficult for novice learners and more suited to Bloom’s higher order thinking skills.
Related reading: Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Connectivism, Instructional Design