<ul><li>Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with theories about knowledge (what we know, how we know, how we test knowledge claims) </li></ul><ul><li>Constructivism is often presented as a theory about teaching (pedagogical theory), but it is actually a theory about knowledge </li></ul>
<ul><li>The basic idea of constructivism is that learners are not ‘blank slates’ or ‘empty cups’ to be filled with knowledge, but that they already have a huge body of knowledge and life experience. </li></ul><ul><li>Because knowledge is a structured network rather than a disconnected ‘heap’ of facts, new knowledge is built on the foundations of existing knowledge and integrated with it </li></ul>
<ul><li>This suggests the idea that knowledge cannot be directly transmitted from one person to another. The knowledge must be broken down into some form of information (speech, text, drama, art), which is then construed (i.e. viewed through the construction system of) the learner, and new knowledge (not necessarily the same) is then constructed within the learner </li></ul>
<ul><li>Jean Piaget, who is famous for his stage theory of development, considered himself an epistemologist rather than a psychologist </li></ul><ul><li>He described the growth of knowledge as occurring through assimilation (fitting new knowledge into existing frameworks) and accommodation (reconstructing our frameworks to fit around new knowledge) </li></ul>
<ul><li>George Kelly developed a constructivist psychology in 1955 </li></ul><ul><li>His key principle was that humans are driven by the need to understand the world around them, and build and test mental ‘construct systems’ against their experience, seeking to make their models as predictive as possible of future experiences </li></ul>
<ul><li>Ernst von Glasersfeld describes his ‘radical constructivism’ as having two parts: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Learners construct new knowledge on the foundations of their existing knowledge </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The knowledge we create tells us nothing about reality, it only helps us to function successfully </li></ul></ul>
<ul><li>Joan Solomon and other writers recognised that personal (and radical) constructivism focused too strongly on the individual as learner, without taking adequate account of the influence of peers, parents and teachers on learning and knowledge construction </li></ul>
<ul><li>Lev Vygotsky in the Soviet Union also emphasised the role of social contact in learning and knowledge construction </li></ul><ul><li>He added an emphasis on the role of culture in learning, and on the importance of language </li></ul>
<ul><li>Both personal and social constructivism locate knowledge within individual learners – they only differ in the details of how it gets there </li></ul><ul><li>Constructionist perspectives like those of Frederick Steier and Kenneth Gergen suggest that knowledge is a social construct that exists and resides in social groups </li></ul>
<ul><li>As an epistemological theory, constructivism is not about teaching directly, it’s about knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>We logically infer (influenced by our assumptions and experience) ideas about learning from this theory about knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Then we logically infer (with the same influences) ideas about teaching from these ideas about learning </li></ul>
<ul><li>Students should be actively engaged in their learning, rather than passively receiving </li></ul><ul><li>Learning should begin from ‘where students are’ in their knowledge. Kieran Egan has written some excellent books on this point </li></ul><ul><li>Science students need opportunities to test their new knowledge frameworks against other knowledge and against the physical world </li></ul>
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