Constructivism is a theory and observation based on how people learn. People construct their own understanding and knowledge of the events that happen around them through experiencing and reflecting on those experiences to reconcile if what we believe is relevant or irrelevant as per the new information.
Constructivism is ‘an approach to learning that holds that people actively construct or make their own knowledge and that reality is determined by the experiences of the learner.’
(Elliott et al., 2000)
Learning is an active rather than a passive process. During a passive process, we expect the learner to be filled with knowledge, whereas constructivism states that learners construct knowledge on the basis of active engagement with real-life problem-solving situations where their prior knowledge, past experiences and new knowledge makes meaningful connections.
Knowledge is viewed as personal, each learner has their own point of view based on existing knowledge and values. Which means the same lesson and learning material has multiple interpretations. Learners keep updating their mental models to reflect on new information.
The roots of constructivism began with the developmental work of Jean Piaget (1986-1980) who developed a theory that highlighted the function of cognition. Piaget talked about four stages in human development; the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage and the formal operational stage. Later Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) contributed the idea that learning and development were integrally tied to communicative interactions with others. John Dewey (1859–1952) argued that human thought is practical problem solving and these experiences occur in social contexts such as a classroom where students join in together to bring in real world problems into the school curriculum.
Concepts within constructivism
Constructivist learning theory is an understanding that enhances a learner's logical and conceptual growth. The two key concepts within the theory are accommodation and assimilation.
- Assimilating means incorporating new experiences in old experiences, rethinking and altering perceptions.
- On the other hand accommodation reframes new experiences and it keeps changing as the context changes.
Teachers play a huge role within the constructivist learning theory. They function as facilitators who help students to understand the concept better. The approach is different from delivering lectures as the teacher starts by asking questions rather than talking about the concepts themselves. The student then comes to the conclusion using their own understanding and the teacher continues discussions and conversations with students. This creates a learning experience that is open to new directions as the learning progresses. Therefore, agreeing with Piaget’s theory of constructivism, teachers should also be a mentor, consultant and a coach to students. Moreover, the classroom experience is enhanced by allowing different students to come up and share their knowledge and understanding.
There are a number of competing constructivist views in education;
- Prior knowledge: the view is that prior knowledge impacts the learning process. For example; asking students what they already know about a certain topic.
- Authentic problems: constructivist learning is concerned with active participation of learners in problem-solving and critical thinking real problems. For example; project-based learning in which students take on tasks to learn from their understanding and experiences.
- Constructivist curriculum: it presents an emerging agenda based on what learners know, what they are puzzled by and what are their learning goals. In constructivist classrooms, the curriculum is generally a process of digging deeper and deeper into big ideas.
- Constructivist assessment: Formative and summative assessments are the two types of assessments of student learning. It includes evaluations of ongoing portfolios and demonstrations of work in progress. Student collaboration also provides a form of formative assessment. From a constructivist perspective, formative assessments are more valuable to the learner.
- Technology and constructivism: there are patterns in the way learning takes place using tutorials, group discussions and interactions. Each tool invites collaboration by structuring the kind of contribution learners can make. Teachers who value information and communication in classrooms are more likely to have a constructivist approach. Moreover, sophisticated technology and communication tools can capture cognitive processes learners engage in when solving problems.
In a constructivist classroom a teacher’s role is much more than just giving out lectures. A teacher is an expert learner who can guide students to adopt cognitive strategies and engage in classroom activities which can easily be done if you have done the Level 3 Award in Education and Training course.