What is Constructivism?

In the Constructivist theory the emphasis is placed on the learner or the student rather than the teacher or the instructor.  It is the learner who interacts with objects and events and thereby gains an understanding of the features held by such objects or events.  The learner, therefore, constructs his/her own conceptualizations and solutions to problems.  Learner autonomy and initiative is accepted and encouraged.

Constructivists view learning as the result of mental construction.  Students learn by fitting new information together with what they already know.  People learn best when they actively construct their own understanding.  

In constructivist thinking learning is also affected by the context and the beliefs and attitudes of the learner.  Learners are encouraged to invent their own solutions and to try out ideas and hypotheses.  They are given the opportunity to build on prior knowledge.

There are many different schools of thought within this theory,  all of which fall within the same basic assumption about learning.  The main two are social constructivism and cognitive constructivism.

Today constructivist teaching is based on recent research about the human brain and what is known about how learning occurs.

Constructivism is an approach to teaching and learning based on the premise that cognition (learning) is the result of "mental construction." In other words, students learn by fitting new information together with what they already know. Constructivists believe that learning is affected by the context in which an idea is taught as well as by students' beliefs and attitudes.

Constructivist teaching is based on recent research about the human brain and what is known about how learning occurs. Caine and Caine (1991) suggest that brain-compatible teaching is based on 12 principles:

  1. The brain is a parallel processor.  It simultaneously processes many different types of information, including thoughts, emotions, and cultural knowledge. Effective teaching employs a variety of learning strategies.


  2. Learning engages the entire physiology. Teachers can't address just the intellect.


  3. The search for meaning is innate. Effective teaching recognizes that meaning is personal and unique, and that students' understandings are based on their own unique experiences.


  4. The search for meaning occurs through "patterning." Effective teaching connects isolated ideas and information with global concepts and themes.


  5. Emotions are critical to patterning. Learning is influenced by emotions, feelings, and attitudes.


  6. The brain processes parts and wholes simultaneously. People have difficulty learning when either parts or wholes are overlooked.


  7. Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception. Learning is influenced by the environment, culture, and climate.


  8. Learning always involves conscious and unconscious processes. Students need time to process "how" as well as "what" they've learned.


  9. We have at least two different types of memory: a spatial memory system, and a set of systems for rote learning. Teaching that heavily emphasizes rote learning does not promote spatial, experienced learning and can inhibit understanding.


  10. We understand and remember best when facts and skills are embedded in natural, spatial memory. Experiential learning is most effective.


  11. Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat. The classroom climate should be challenging but not threatening to students.


  12. Each brain is unique. Teaching must be multifaceted to allow students to express preferences.

To summarise:

Constructivism ...

Key words and phrases: