Constructivism is a theory about how people learn; ‘based on the idea that knowledge is constructed by the knower based on mental activity’ (Skaalid, 2009). The history of constructivism dates back to the days of Socrates- his dialogue with his followers. However, modern constructivism theory evolved with theories of child development and education (progressive education) by Jean Piaget and John Dewey (Wilson and Liepol, 2004). In a constructive class room, learning is built based on the previous knowledge, by active participation, by reflective methods (what they learned), collaborative, inquiry based and evolving (Wilson and Liepol, 2004). The approaches of constructivism is that learning is based on inside out rather than outside in. In other words, this theory emphasizes on practice based learning rather than communication based learning (Reiser and Dempsey, 2007, p.42 and 46). But, I think good learning is based on both practice and communication based learning. There are five reasons I believe that learning should be a combination of effective communication and practice based learning.
Whole concept Vs Part of Basic Concept
First, constructivism focuses on teaching the big concept as whole. This might not be suitable in all situations. For example, one of the world largest educational experiments known as The Project Follow Through found that students in constructivism class rooms are lagging behind in learning the basic skills compared to the traditional learning class room. In traditional learning theories such as cognitive information processing theory, Schema theory and Gagne’s theory of instructions focuses on starting with small part of the whole idea and teaching the basic concepts. Similarly, the information processing theory proposes the three memory systems of the learner such as, sensory, short term and long term. The Schema theory says that the knowledge is represented in the long term memory as packets (Reiser and Dempsey, 2007, p.38-39). Therefore, good learning first starts with outside in a small part of the whole process and ends within in the constructivism approach; inside out as whole.
Fixed Curriculum Vs Students Questions and Interest
Secondly, the constructivism theory neglects the fixed curriculum and concentrates on the students’ interests and questions. According to Jacqueline Grennon Brooks (a constructivism advocate), “In a classroom based on constructivist pedagogy, there’s a lot of complicated things going on. And oftentimes the order in that classroom is not immediately evident. However if I was going to pinpoint one feature that might pervade all of those classrooms, it’s really based upon the student. Is the student building theories, is the student the one who has to put together ideas based upon evidence and information at hand. If that’s going on, you probably have a constructivist classroom.”. For instance, Seventh grade students in Sulk School of Science in New York did a simulated emergency session of UN Security Council (Wilson and Liepol, 2004). This simulated situation would help the students to learn about the people and countries. This method of instruction would help students to get practical knowledge. However, the fixed curriculum will accelerate to cover other important subjects and keep on track. Moreover, the combination of fixed curriculum and students interest and question based instruction is very helpful in the developing and underdeveloped countries. For example, in India, thousands of children are still are not able to attend the schools because of poor social and economic situation. I think in such a situation, communication based instruction would give a better opportunity to learn more and reach more students; the practice based instructions are sometimes very expensive. Low income family students will not be able to send their children to such schools. I fear that would create a learning divide in the education system. I think our duties as educators, and society is at least to provide the minimum level of learning to all students with our available resources.
Repetition Vs Interaction
Thirdly, the constructivist class room advocates more interaction rather than repetition. I think both are important. For example, to build a simulated rocket, the students have to study basic math equations and physics concepts. The memorized equations would help the students to do their project more efficiently rather than deriving at the equation. Memorization of equations can be achieved very easily by repetition. However, the mere repetition of the equations is not enough; students have to apply their content into the application level. In the new discipline, “Learning Science”, learning is activity or practice based rather than communicative (Reiser and Dempsey, 2007, p.47). To train large number of students, instructional science is better than learning science. Here again the question arises about the situations in the third world countries with large population and poverty.
I like the situational learning theory, in this context; because, this theory focuses on the social and cultural determinants in the learning. This theory also advocates the theory of constructivism knowing with doing or “a work in progress” learning (Reiser and Dempsey, 2007, p.40). A combination of these theories would help the students to learn better.
Recipient Vs Constructivist
Fourthly, the constructivist theory encourages the construction of knowledge by the students but in the traditional learning, the learner is a mere recipient of knowledge. In the constructivist classroom the teachers’ role is being a facilitator; encouraging students to learn and reflect their ideas. I think even in this situation; the teacher has to provide some input to initiate the students’ thinking process. Parents can help their children in that way if there is an outlined teaching. Usually the constructivist classroom is collaborative in nature; more emphasis on group project may not be able to recognize the individual performance.
Testing and Correct answers Vs Observation, and point of view
Fifthly, the constructivism assessment is based on the students’ work, observation and point of view as well as test. Accountability on the part of teachers and students will not be produced by such assessment. It needs more systematic ways for assessing students’ and as well as teachers’ performance. I think, the constructivism assessment model is time consuming. Proper performance appraisal needs structured assessment methods. In a large group of students the observation of the individual student will be very difficult. For example, monitoring the involvement of each student in a large group project will be very difficult. Also the student-teacher ratio will also be a constraint in many developing nations. However, I am hoping the new technology environment would help to overcome the distance and student-teacher ratio. For instance the online instruction, web based assessment tools can reduce the problems involved in the assessment.
In conclusion, on one hand the constructivism, which is practice based learning helps students to develop thinking skills, communication and social skills and also provide motivation to learn; on the other hand communication based traditional learning makes the foundation for effective learning. In short, the constructivism theory impacts Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. The standard based curriculum is eliminated in a constructivist classroom. In the aspect of instruction, the teacher plays a role as facilitator in the HOW TO LEARN process with open ended questions. In the process of assessment, grades and standard tests have been eliminated. I believe that the technological advancement will address the challenges between the traditional communication based learning and practice based learning.
Funderstanding. (2008). Constructivism. Retrieved April 6, 2009, from http://www.funderstanding.com/content/constructivism
Reiser, R., & Dempsey, J. (Eds.). (2007). Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ, USA: Prentice Hall.
Skaalid, B. Elements of Constructivism. Retrieved Apr 7, 2009, from http://www.usask.ca/education/coursework/802papers/Skaalid/definition.html
Wilson, S. Y., & Liepol, W. (2004). Constructivism as a paradigm for teaching and learning. Retrieved Apr 7, 2009, from http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/index_sub4.html