Higher Diploma in Education | ICTs

Explanation: Constructivism

The constructivist approach to teaching and learning is based on a combination of a subset of research within cognitive psychology and a subset of research within social psychology. Piaget's theory provides part of the foundation for constructivist learning: Piaget and Bruner are considered the chief theorists among the cognitive constructivists, while Vygotsky is the major theorist among the social constructivists.

Constructivism is an approach to teaching and learning based on the premise that cognition (learning) is the result of mental construction. Knowledge is not received from outside, but by reflecting on our experiences, by fitting new information together with what we already know we construct knowledge in our head. Thus, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. Learning is the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences. Constructivist theorists believe that people learn best when they actively construct their own understanding.

In the constructivist theory emphasis is placed on the learner rather than the teacher. It is the learner who interacts with objects and events and thereby gains an understanding of the features held by such objects or events.

In constructivist thinking learning is also affected by the context and the beliefs and attitudes of the learner. As a set of instructional practices, constructivism favours processes over end products; guided discovery over expository learning; authentic, embedded learning situations over abstracted, artificial ones and portfolio assessments over multiple-choice exams.

Cognitive Constructivism (Bruner)

A major theme in the theoretical framework of cognitive constructivism proposed by Bruner is that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. Bruner's work emphasized the importance of understanding the structure of a subject being studied, the need for active learning as the basis for true understanding, and the value of reasoning in learning. His constructivist theory is a general framework for instruction based upon the study of cognition.

In Bruner's constructivist theory learners engage in discovery learning obtaining knowledge by themselves. They select and transform information, construct hypotheses, and make decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so. In order for discovery to occur learners require background preparation in the form of a cognitive structure that provides meaning and organization to experiences and allows the individual to "go beyond the information given".

Social Constructivism (Vygotsky)

Vygotsky is the main proponent of social constructivism. Social constructivists emphasise the social contexts of learning and that knowledge is mutually built and constructed. Vygotsky believed that this life long process of development was dependent on social interaction and that social learning actually leads to cognitive development.

This idea is based around what Vygotsky called the Zone of Proximal Development. Vygotsky describes it as "the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers". In other words, a student can perform a task under adult guidance or with peer collaboration that could not be achieved alone.

The Zone of Proximal Development bridges that gap between what is known and what can be known. Vygotsky claimed that learning occurred in this zone.

The implications of Vygotsky's model for teaching are to establish opportunities for students to learn with the teacher and peers in constructing knowledge and understanding. In both Piaget's and Vygotsky's models, teachers are facilitators not directors. Distinctions between cognitive and social constructivist approaches are not always clear-cut: social constructivists emphasise that social factors contribute to student's construction of knowledge and understanding.

Applications of Constructivism (Papert)

A range of ICT based learning activities are underpinned by constructivist learning theory. Seymour Papert has argued that by learning computer programming, students learn how to think and learn for themselves. Papert created the computer programming language LOGO in which a small turtle is moved around the screen in response to programmed commands.

Paperts work has given rise to the term constructionism. Constructionism adds an extra layer to constructivism by asserting that people learn with particular effectiveness when they engaged in constructing personally meaningful artefacts such as a programmable robot, a machine, a computer programme or a LOGO turtle. Constructionism is concerned with building things, both in the sense of building understanding and building artifacts.

Other approaches based on constructivism include computer simulations that immerse the student in learning environments that model real world situations. Microworlds are scaled down computer-based simulations of real environments in which learners construct knowledge as they explore and design new worlds.

Hypertext and the Internet have provided learners with vast quantities of information to explore and mine. The information learner's find on the Internet becomes knowledge when it is interpreted and processed by the human brain. This can be facilitated through a constructivist approach where the teacher provides scaffolding and guidance.

Word processing applications, presentation software and the Internet all provide tools to help in project work which is the heart of a constructivist approach. Use of electronic mail and computer-mediated communication (CMC) provides opportunities for collaborative learning based on a social constructivist approach.

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