Erin C. Markus
19 October 2010
Constructivist Learning Theory and the Digital Learning Age: An Annotated Bibliography
Constructivist theory suggests that people make meaning out of their experiences as they attach
new knowledge to previously learned ideas and concepts. People learn from interaction with
learning materials not mere repetition. Constructivist learning environments provide learners
with activities where they have opportunities to investigate learning materials, solve problems,
and work with peers. Teachers work alongside students giving guidance where needed and
promote individual thinking as students make their own learning connections. The teacher
considers various perspectives and students aren’t graded on “right” or “wrong” answers. Many
aspects of digital and distance education utilizes the effectiveness of constructivist
methodologies in teaching and learning.
Abdal-Haqq, I. (1998). Constructivism in teacher education: considerations for those
who would link practice to theory. Retrieved October 12, 2010 from
Constructivism is an epistemology, a learning or theory that offers an explanation of the nature
of knowledge and how human beings learn. It maintains that individuals create or construct their
own new understandings or knowledge through the interaction of what they already know and
believe and the ideas, events, and activities with which they come in contact (Abdal-Haqq,
1998). Knowledge is acquired through involvement with content instead of imitation or
repetition (Adbal-Haqq, 1998). Learning activities in constructivist settings are characterized by
active engagement, inquiry, problem solving, and collaboration with others. The teacher is a
guide, facilitator, and co-explorer who encourages learners to question, challenge, and formulate
their own ideas, opinions, and conclusions. This article compares the differences between social
constructivism and psychological constructivism. Social constructivism states that individual
development derives from social interactions within which cultural meanings are shared by the
group and eventually internalized by the individual (Richardson, 1997). Psychological
constructivism is a child-centered approach that seeks to identify, through scientific study, the
natural path of cognitive development (Vadeboncoeur, 1997).
Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (1993). In search of understanding: the case for constructivist
classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.
The authors describe five guiding principles for teaching derived from constructivism: (1) posing
problems of emerging relevance to learners; (2) structuring learning around 'big ideas' or primary
concepts; (3) seeking and valuing students' points of view; (4) adapting curriculum to address
students' suppositions; and (5) assessing student learning in the context of the teaching (Brooks,
1993). They provide research support for and classroom examples of each principle. The authors
also provide a set of descriptors of constructivist teaching behaviors that serves as a framework
within which teachers can experiment with this new approach. Examples make the descriptors
fairly concrete and highlight the practices of teachers who are mediators of students and
environments rather than presenters of information. The authors make suggestions for bold
changes in the institutional settings of schooling to create new norms that support constructivist
approaches to teaching and learning. For education reform to have value, they say, it much begin
with "how students learn and how teachers teach," not with political or policy mandates (Brooks,
Fosnot, C. T. (1996). Constructivism: A psychological theory of learning. Constructivism:
Theory, perspectives, and practice (pp. 8-33). New York: Teachers College Press.
Fosnot provides an extensive review of constructivism. Constructivism comes from the field of
cognitive science, particularly the works of Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner, and Gardner. Fosnot
describes the work of these theorists and develops a synthesis to describe and define the
psychological theory of constructivism. She refers to the debate between cognitive
constructivists and social constructivists, and concludes that a constructivist learning model can
be depicted as a coordination of self, others, and medium connected by symbols, such as
language. This theory pictures learning as an "interpretive building process by active learners
interacting with the physical and social world." While constructivism is a theory of learning, not
a description of teaching, it does have applications for instruction. Fosnot challenges educators to
learn how to use this new paradigm to inform teaching.
Jonassen, D, Davidson, M, Collins, M, Campbell, J, and Haag, B. B. (1995) Constructivism
and computer-mediated communication in distance education. American Journal of
Distance Education. 9, 2, 7-26.
With the field of distance learning being one of the fastest growing in terms of research and
employment opportunities, studying the nature of theory-design alignments in distance education
is critical to understanding the implications of both performing and not performing those
alignments. The author makes several excellent points in discussing the opportunities for
creating authentic, student centered learning environments by means of any one of several
different methods. Jonassen, Davidson, Collins, Campbell, and Haag (1995) apply the principles
of Constructivism to technology and describe Constructivism's place in distance education. They
describe various technological applications that promote the social interaction necessary to help
students construct knowledge. These applications include computer-mediated communication,
computer-supported collaborative work, case-based learning environments, and computer-based
cognitive tools. Using synchronous and asynchronous communication, hypertext based programs
to promote debate, "real life" problems, and computer programs like databases and artificial
intelligence, distance education learners can work together to solve problems and provide the
social interaction necessary to translate educational material into meaningful experiences.
Jonassen, D., & Land, S.M. (2000). Student-centered learning environments. Theoretical
foundations of learning environments, 1-23. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates,
Land and Jonassen examine the learning theories in the design and development of a
constructivist learning environment and the effects of learning theory on student-centered
learning. Constructivist epistemology is the primary focus of this chapter that compares and
contrasts the use of this learning theory in the learning environment. According to the authors,
several perspectives regarding design of learning environments have emerged in response to
interest in alternative epistemologies and it is imperative that efforts continue not only to ground
design practices more completely but also to better understand the promise and limitations of
constructivist learning environments.
Lankshear, C. (1999). Information, knowledge and learning: rethinking epistemology for
education in a digital age. Keynote address presented at the 5th National Congress of
Educational Researchconference, Aguascalientes, Mexico. RetrievedOctober 13, 2010
This keynote address looks at the changing epistemological model of learning in future with the
introduction of new communication and informational technologies. The presentation is broken
down into 3 major sections including: the phenomena of their large scale integration into diverse
social practices, the author’s epistemological view of education, and the ways technologies
discussed in the first part challenges his educational model and the educational practices based
on it. The presentation discusses the role of world economics in the exchange of knowledge. He
argues that eventually knowledge not digitized will eventually be lost as the relationship between
the knowledge supply and user becomes the dominant characteristic of knowledge transfer.
Learners obtain skills that are designed to apply to real world situations and will fulfill society’s
needs. The new technology era information will not be power but the attention paid to specific
information will be. Information will be easily accessible to all. Roles of the educator in virtual
worlds are lead students to information that they should pay attention to.
Purushotma, R. (2005). Commentary: you're not studying, you're just... Language,
Learning & Technology, 9(1), 80-96. Retrieved October 12, 2010 from
Computer gaming can make language learning much more interesting and realistic. The advent
of computers created better drill and practice software, but was still basically the same as the
workbooks. The increase in the use of audio and video technology allowed for a more interactive
use of technology in language learning by using audio files with cell phones and music videos.
The video game the SIMS creates a living environment where the player makes the everyday
decisions to live a normal life. The language of the game can be easily changed to allow for the
practice of different language in a realistic scenario. In many new games the language
programming is separated from the rest of the programming making it much easier to customize
the games. In a virtual game images and animations become an integral part of the learning
process which can help to enhance learning. The online version of the SIMS allows users to
choose a city and move into the neighborhood and interact with the other inhabitants of that
neighborhood in whatever language they want. The article also discusses the advancements in
other digital learning tools, such as typing simulations, interactive foreign language games, and
the benefits of using music and songs in foreign language learning.
Walker, D., & Lambert, L. (1995). Learning and leading theory: a century in the making.
In L. Lambert et al., The constructivist leader (pp. 1-27). New York: Teachers College Press.
Constructivism is a theory of learning and a theory of knowing. This book chapter provides a
survey of the constructivist theory of learning and explicates the relationship between theories of
learning and school leadership. A useful chart is included that traces recent learning theories and
their parallel theories of leadership. Most of the chapter is devoted to the evolution of
constructivist learning theory, showing how it was influenced by the work of Dewey, Piaget,
Bruner, Vygotsky, and Feuerstein, and continues to be clarified and supported by recent work in
cognitive psychology. A new image of the learner emerges from this work that has profound
implications for schooling. The authors state that there are no reasons to believe that the
cognitive processes are different at different ages. They conclude that "constructivism possesses
a richness of thought, a different world view that offers a sense of possibility rather than
limitation to human growth and development."
Wild, M. and Quinn, C. (1998), Implications of educational theory for the design of
instructional multimedia. British Journal of Educational Technology, 29: 73–82. Retrieved
October 13, 2010 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-8535.00047/abstract
This article describes how interactive multimedia is a useful place to reconsider the place of
educational theories in designing interactive learning environments. As technologies advance
and present new learning opportunities, educational theory must guide design using these new
technologies. The article explains that three influences must guide the use of technology in
learning. They include the learners’ knowledge and experience, their learning style, and their
predisposition to learning (or learning approach). These need to be supported in the use of
multimedia in education. The article suggests that not one theory, like contructivism, is adequate
to fully utilize multimedia. It is not one or the other in regard to which theory. It is what will
create the most results. The author makes a great point and one I agree with. Use the theories and
aspects to the theories that work.
Rossett, A. (ed.) (2002). The ASTD E-Learning Handbook: Best Practices, Strategies, and
Case Studies for an Emerging Field. New York: McGraw-Hill.
This American Society for Training & Development handbook is a comprehensive introduction
to every imaginable aspect of e-learning from America‘s premier professional organization for
those involved in workplace learning and performance. The more than fifty articles by a variety
of e-learning practitioners give a breadth and scope beyond what is found in most volumes and
provide an introduction to well respected writers and trainers including Handbook editor Allison
Rossett; Masie Center president Elliott Masie; Marc Rosenberg, author of E-Learning: Strategies
for Delivering Knowledge in the Digital Age; and ASTD executive editor Patricia Galagan.
Among the highlights in a book filled with well written articles are Rosenberg‘s ―The Four C‘s
of Success: Culture, Champions, Communication, and Change‖ (an entire chapter from his
book); Masie‘s ―Blended Learning: The Magic Is in the Mix‖ (which argues against making e-
learning the only mode available to learners); Brandon Hall‘s ―Six Steps to Developing a
Successful E-Learning Initiative: Excerpts from the E-Learning Guidebook‖; and Nory Jones and
James Laffey‘s ―How to Facilitate E-Collaboration and E-Learning in Organizations.‖
Leacock, T. (2005). Building a sustainable e-learning development culture. The Learning
Organization. 12(4), pp. 355-367.
Tracey Leacock‘s description of how staff at a Canadian university‘s School of Interactive Arts
and Technology created an effective and sustainable system for producing e-learning content is a
well organized guide and case study for anyone interested in best-of-class e-learning practices.
The section headings themselves serve as an outline to the topic: the ―guiding principles section
headings suggest that course designers should ensure that graduates are workplace-ready,
programs are learner centered, a culture of collaboration is fostered, and economic sustainability
is considered (pp. 356-357). Best practices include orientation; a formal ―Mastering
Educational Technology and Learning course and ongoing workshops for those involved in
course development; work clusters which bring together up to ten developers along with an
instructional designer and project manager; and an ―eLearning Innovation Centre‖ to support
the work of those producing e-learning content (pp. 359-363). The result, Leacock suggests, is a
model which ―can be applied in any educational or training program or organization‖ (p. 366)
and which ―will lead to the building of a successful e-learning organization.
Bennet, A. & Bennet, D. (2008). E-Learning as energetic learning. VINE: The Journal of
Information and Knowledge Management Systems. 38(2), pp. 206-220.
Alex and David Bennett, through a contemporary examination of how the human brain processes
information, document ways in which e-learning becomes effective through learners’ emotional
engagement with material being taught. Drawing from the work of James Zull and many others,
they refer to passion and engagement as ―the entry point to effective e-learning (p. 210); cite
the importance of e-learning which is ―interactive and specifically tailored to each individual
(p. 211); discuss the importance of ―collaborative environments‖ in successful e-learning (pp.
211-213); and conclude that ―(l)earning is a very private affair, dependent upon the needs,
feelings, history and expectations of the self-organizing system made up of the mind, the brain,
the body, the spirit, the conscious self, and…the e-learning system (p. 216). A list of more than
fifty citations at the end of the article provides valuable resources for anyone interested in further
exploring the topic.