IntroductionConstructivism is a theory of learning and an approach to educationthat lays emphasis on the ways that people create meaning of theworld through a series of individual constructs. Constructs are thedifferent types of filters we choose to place over our realities to changeour reality from chaos to order. Von Glasersfeld describesconstructivism as, “a theory of knowledge with roots in philosophy,psychology, and cybernetics” . Simply stated, it is a learning processwhich allows a student to experience an environment first-hand,thereby, giving the student reliable, trust-worthy knowledge. Thestudent is required to act upon the environment to both acquire andtest new knowledge.
According to Kliebard,.John Dewey created an active intellectual learning environment in hislaboratory school during the early 20th century. Neuroscience now supports this form of activelearning as the way people naturally learn..Active learning conditionalizes knowledge throughexperiential learning. Smith[. writes that John Dewey believed education must engage with andexpand experience; those methods used to educate must provide for exploration, thinking, andreflection; and that interaction with the environment is necessary for learning; also, thatdemocracy should be upheld in the educational process. Dewey advocates the learning process ofexperiential learning through real life experience to construct and conditionalize knowledge,which is consistent with the Constructivist"Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is anatural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not bylistening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomesthat of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially preparedenvironment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help thegreat work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to theunfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events,but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.David Kolb, in his books Learning Style Inventory Technical Manual.and Experiential Learning:Experience as the Source of Learning and Development,. emphasizes the importance ofconditionalized knowledge through experiential learning. David A. Kolb and Roger Fry createdthe Kolb & Fry Model out of four elements: concrete experience, observation and reflection, theformation of abstract concepts, and testing in new situations. He represented these in the famousexperiential learning circle [after Kurt Lewin]. Kolb and Fry (1975) argue that the learning cyclecan begin at any one of the four points, and that it should really be approached as a continuousspiral. However, it is suggested that the learning process often begins with a person carrying outa particular action and then seeing the effect of the action in this situation. Following this, thesecond step is to understand these effects in the particular instance, so that, if the same actionwere taken in the same circumstances, it would be possible to anticipate what would follow fromthe action. In this pattern, the third step would be to understand the general principle under whichthe particular instance falls.Kolb’s beliefs are consistent with the Constructivists in that he includes Concrete Experience aspart of the learning process and requires a student to test knowledge by acting upon theenvironment, thereby, giving the student reliable, trust-worthy [conditionalized] knowledge.Kolb’s work closely parallels recent work in the field of neuroscience, exemplified in thewritings of James Zull.
The nature of the learnerThe type of learner is self-directed, creative, and innovative. The purpose in education is tobecome creative and innovative through analysis, conceptualizations, and synthesis of priorexperience to create new knowledge. The educator’s role is to mentor the learner during heuristicproblem solving of ill-defined problems by enabling quested learning that may modify existingknowledge and allow for creation of new knowledge. The learning goal is the highest order oflearning: heuristic problem solving, metacognitive knowledge, creativity, and originality.The importance of the background and culture of the learnerSocial constructivism or socioculturalism encourages the learner to arrive at his or her version ofthe truth, influenced by his or her background, culture or embedded worldview. Historicaldevelopments and symbol systems, such as language, logic, and mathematical systems, areinherited by the learner as a member of a particular culture and these are learned throughout thelearners life. This also stresses the importance of the nature of the learners social interactionwith knowledgeable members of the society. Without the social interaction with other moreknowledgeable people, it is impossible to acquire social meaning of important symbol systemsand learn how to utilize them. Young children develop their thinking abilities by interacting withother children, adults and the physical world. From the social constructivist viewpoint, it is thusimportant to take into account the background and culture of the learner throughout the learningprocess, as this background also helps to shape the knowledge and truth that the learner creates,discovers and attains in the learning process (Wertsch 1997). One good example of constructivistlearning in a non-formal setting is the Investigate Centre at The Natural History Museum,London. Here visitors are encouraged to explore a collection of real natural history specimens, topractice some scientific skills and make discoveries for themselves.The responsibility for learningFurthermore, it is argued that the responsibility of learning should reside increasingly with thelearner (Glasersfeld, 1989). Social constructivism thus emphasizes the importance of the learnerbeing actively involved in the learning process, unlike previous educational viewpoints wherethe responsibility rested with the instructor to teach and where the learner played a passive,receptive role.It is called the "Harkness" discussion method because it was developed at Phillips ExeterAcademy with funds donated in the 1930s by Edward Harkness. This is also named after theHarkness table and involves students seated in a circle, motivating and controlling their owndiscussion. The teacher acts as little as possible. Perhaps the teachers only function is to observe,although he/she might begin or shift or even direct a discussion. The students get it rolling, directit, and focus it. They act as a team, cooperatively, to make it work. They all participate, but notin a competitive way. Rather, they all share in the responsibility and the goals, much as anymembers share in any team sport. Although the goals of any discussion will change dependingupon whats under discussion, some goals will always be the same: to illuminate the subject, tounravel its mysteries, to interpret and share and learn from other points of view, to piece togetherthe puzzle using everyones contribution. Discussion skills are important. Everyone must be
aware of how to get this discussion rolling and keep it rolling and interesting. Just as in anysport, a number of skills are necessary to work on and use at appropriate times. Everyone isexpected to contribute by using these skills.The motivation for learningAnother crucial assumption regarding the nature of the learner concerns the level and source ofmotivation for learning. According to Von Glasersfeld (1989) sustaining motivation to learn isstrongly dependent on the learner’s confidence in his or her potential for learning. These feelingsof competence and belief in potential to solve new problems, are derived from first-handexperience of mastery of problems in the past and are much more powerful than any externalacknowledgment and motivation (Prawat and Floden 1994). This links up with Vygotsky’s "zoneof proximal development" (Vygotsky 1935) where learners are challenged within closeproximity to, yet slightly above, their current level of development. By experiencing thesuccessful completion of challenging tasks, learners gain confidence and motivation to embarkon more complex challenges.The nature of the learning processLearning is an active, social processSocial constructivism, strongly influenced by Vygotskys (1978) work, suggests that knowledgeis first constructed in a social context and is then taken up by individuals (Bruning et al., 1999;M. Cole, 1991; Eggan&Kauchak, 2004). According to social constructivists, the process ofsharing each persons point of view--called collaborative elaboration (Meter & Stevens, 2000)--results in learners building understanding together that wouldnt be possible alone (Greeno et al.,1996).Scholars view learning as active, where learners should learn to discover principles, concepts andfacts for themselves. They support guesswork and intuitive thinking in learners (Brown etal.1989; Ackerman 1996). For the social constructivist, the real is not there to be found: it doesnot pre- exist, but we invent it in a social context. Kukla (2000) argues that we construct the real.constructs meaning for itself, while speech connects this meaning with the common world ofher/his culture.. dialogue with the persons being assessed to find out their current level of performance on anytask and sharing with them possible ways in which that performance might be improved on asubsequent occasion. Thus, assessment and learning are seen as inextricably linked and notseparate processes (Holt and Willard-Holt 2000).According to this viewpoint instructors should see assessment as a continuous and interactiveprocess that measures the achievement of the learner, the quality of the learning experience andcourseware. The feedback created by the assessment process serves as a direct foundation forfurther development.
Engaging and challenging the learnerLearners should constantly be challenged with tasks that refer to skills and knowledge justbeyond their current level of mastery. This captures their motivation and builds on previoussuccesses to enhance learner confidence (Brownstein 2001). This is in line with Vygotsky’szoneof proximal development, which can be described as the distance between the actualdevelopmental level (as determined by independent problem-solving) and the level of potentialdevelopment (as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaborationwith more capable peers) (Vygotsky 1978).Vygotsky (1978) further claimed that instruction is good only when it proceeds ahead ofdevelopment. Then it awakens and rouses to life an entire set of functions in the stage ofmaturing, which lie in the zone of proximal development. It is in this way that instruction playsan extremely important role in development.To fully engage and challenge the learner, the task and learning environment should reflect thecomplexity of the environment that the learner should be able to function in at the end oflearning. Learners must not only have ownership of the learning or problem-solving process, butof the problem itself (Derry 1999).Where the sequencing of subject matter is concerned, it is the constructivist viewpoint that thefoundations of any subject may be taught to anybody at any stage in some form (Duffy andJonassen 1992). This means that instructors should first introduce the basic ideas that give lifeand form to any topic or subject area, and then revisit and build upon these repeatedly. Thisnotion has been extensively used in curricula.It is also important for instructors to realize that although a curriculum may be set down forthem, it inevitably becomes shaped by them into something personal that reflects their own beliefsystems, their thoughts and feelings about both the content of their instruction and their learners(Rhodes and Bellamy 1999). Thus, the learning experience becomes a shared enterprise. Theemotions and life contexts of those involved in the learning process must therefore be consideredas an integral part of learning. The goal of the learner is central in considering what is learned(Brown et al. 1989; Ackerman 1996)..Kirschneret al. (2006. describe why they group a series of seemingly disparate learning theories(Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based learning). The reasoning for thisgrouping is because each learning theory promotes the same constructivist teaching technique—"learning by doing." While they argue "learning by doing" is useful for more knowledgeablelearners, they argue this teaching technique is not useful for novices. Mayer states that itpromotes behavioral activity too early in the learning process, when learners should becognitively active (Mayer, 2004.
In addition, Sweller and his associates describe a continuum of guidance, starting with workedexamples to slowly fade guidance. This continuum of faded guidance has been tested empiricallyto produce a series of learning effects: the worked-example effect (Sweller and Cooper, 1985. theguidance fading effect (Renkl, Atkinson, Maier, and Staley, 2002),.and the expertise-reversaleffect (Kalyuga, Ayres, Chandler, and Sweller, 2003)..