Constructivism

Constructivist methodologies and principles are based on the theory of learning first defined by Jean Piaget as constructivism.   Prior to Piaget’s study of children’s development, the prevalent notion was that knowledge was transmitted into the minds of students who were blank slates or empty vessels ready to acquire knowledge in this passive way (Freire, 1970).  Piaget’s work enlightened scholars about the cognitive development of children, their journey through cognitive stages, and the fact that learners construct their own knowledge by assimilating new (often conflicting) information with their prior knowledge, in a personally relevant way.

While there is debate amongst educators about how children move through stages and how they can best be taught, there is agreement that the construction of knowledge is an active process, not a passive transmission of information.

Many educators have used the constructivist learning theory to develop principles for education or constructivist approaches, and this accounts for many branches of constructivism in education  (e.g. cognitive, radical, social, co-constructivist).  However different they may be, all forms of constructivism maintain certain conceptions about learners and teaching practice:

Constructivist Theory and Conceptions about Learners

•    New knowledge is built upon the foundation of previous knowledge
•    Children are innate, natural learners
•    All people have the desire and ability to learn
•    Learning is a social activity; language is an important part of the learning process
•    Development results from interaction between the students and a stimulating intellectual environment
•    Learning activity should be relevant, situated and authentic
•    Constructivism requires self-regulation and the building of constructs through reflection and abstraction

Implications of Constructivism on Teaching Practice

•    The work of learners is valuable and important
•    Learners need to be active and engaged
•    Learners need to learn how to ask and explore critical questions
•    Activity should be personally relevant
•    Choices increase engagement and authenticity
•    There is a continuous cycle of assessment, instruction and learning