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:
- 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.
- Learning engages the entire physiology. Teachers can't address just the
- 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.
- The search for meaning occurs through "patterning." Effective teaching
connects isolated ideas and information with global concepts and themes.
- Emotions are critical to patterning. Learning is influenced by emotions,
feelings, and attitudes.
- The brain processes parts and wholes simultaneously. People have
difficulty learning when either parts or wholes are overlooked.
- Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception.
Learning is influenced by the environment, culture, and climate.
- Learning always involves conscious and unconscious processes. Students
need time to process "how" as well as "what" they've learned.
- 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
- We understand and remember best when facts and skills are embedded in
natural, spatial memory. Experiential learning is most effective.
- Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat. The classroom
climate should be challenging but not threatening to students.
- Each brain is unique. Teaching must be multifaceted to allow students to
- emphasises learning and not teaching
- encourages and accepts learner autonomy and initiative
- sees learners as creatures of will and purpose
- thinks of learning as a process
- encourages learner inquiry
- acknowledges the critical role of experience in learning
- nurtures learners natural curiosity
- takes the learner's mental model into account
- emphasises performance and understanding when assessing learning
- bases itself on the principles of the cognitive theory
- makes extensive use of cognitive terminology such as predict,
create and analyze
- considers how the student learns
- encourages learners to engage in dialogue with other students and the
- supports co-operative learning
- involves learners in real world situations
- emphasises the context in which learning takes place
- considers the beliefs and attitudes of the learner
- provides learnersthe opportunity to construct new knowledge and
understanding from authentic experience
Key words and phrases:
- meta learning
- meaningful learning
- discovery learning
- situated learning,
- cognitive learning and thinking,
- thinking about thinking,
- learner initiated inquiry and exploration,
- holistic approach,
- learner control,
- teacher facilitation,
- and much more....