• Concept Map--an alternate view (to come)
  • Resources, Links (to come)

Most Prominent Contributors

Giambattista Vico (18th century)

Richard Rorty (

Jerome Bruner

Vygotsky (ZPD,

Piaget (leaning more toward social cognition)

Dewey (situated learning, perturbation)

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Definition of Learning

  • Learning is: active, contextualized process of constructing rather than acquiring knowledge.  It is an acculturation into (or a change in relationship to) established communities of practice to which the learner is connected
  • Instruction is: process of supporting construction and social-diaogical activities rather than transmitting or transferring knowledge.
  • Education: the acquisition of the art of knowledge utilization. (Whitehead, 1929)

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Description of Theory

  • Constructivism (collaborative and cooperative strategies) is the latest “in” thing—they are perhaps the instructional strategy of the decade.(1990s)
  • Knowledge is constructed based on personal experiences and hypotheses of the world and are continuously tested for viability through social negotiation.
  • Everyone’s interpretation and construction of knowledge is different.
  • Shared or common meaning is not as critical as just knowing where your understanding is in relation to others.
  • Truth does not exist external to society’s constructs (socio-cultural constructivism)

    Key terms

    • Learning as experience, activity and dialogical process.
    • Viability, social validity
    • Problem Based Learning (PBL)
    • Anchored instruction
    • Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD or Zo-ped)
    • Scaffolding/cognitive apprenticeship, coaching
    • Meaning negotiation
    • Inquiry, discovery, reflection, reasoning
    • MindAsComputer(MAC), MindAsBrian(MAB), MindAsRhizome(MAR)
    • Filled vs. empty technology
    • Perturbation, puzzlement, disequilibration

    Relation to other theories

    • Related to post modernism and critical theory in that it questions suppositions.
    • Reaction to didactic approaches behaviorism and programmed instruction.

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Initial (knee-jerk) Reactions

  • Constructivists devalue what can be learned from history—in some respects they seem bent on having everyone reinvent and thoroughly understand the wheel for themselves.
  • Fosters too much reletivism and subjectivism for my tastes.
  • Rogoff (1994) negatively describes an adult-run model where “adults have to be concerned with how to package the knowledge and how to motivate the children to make themselves receptive”…I say yes!, and what of it?!
  • Constructivist approaches have existed since the earliest Jewish yeshivas.
  • I do agree that students should be taught to be more generative in constructing their knowledge, and need to be more critical consumers.
  • Constructivism seems like a very laborious, inefficient, resource-intensive (time, people) process…is their sufficient ROI?
  • Constructivist learning is difficult to assess, measure and implement in today’s educational system.

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Relevance to Instructional Systems Design (ISD)

  • Not all things that are called constructivist are constructivist (widely misused in education, generously applied to anything non-passive or rote.)
  • Focus is on generative, dialogical activities and strategies, not on the content itself.
  • IDs should design teaching/learning models and environments that provide a framework for learner control wherein a learner can get assistance (scaffolding) on an as-needed basis; environments that encourage exploration, inquiry and discovery AND social interaction to validate (prove viable) their discoveries.
  • Designers/teachers should recognize the importance of multiple views/perspectives and allow for them.
  • We must prepare learners to act effectively in particular contexts (prolem solving etc.)  This will usually also include lower level knowledge acquisition.
  • Learner control, hypertext and hyperlinks, more decentralized, multilinear approaches should all inform the constructivist designer’s practice.

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What I Don’t Know yet / Questions

  • Why is everything labeled as black or white?  There are truths in all of these theories, and they don’ all require a unique label!
  • The definition of learning as “an acculturation into an established community of practice” sounds like a fancy way of saying, “you’ll get to know what we know soon enough in order to participate in our community —we’ll just make you take the long way (scenic route) to get there.”  Is this as elitist as it sounds? Or is it just the view of radical contructivists?

Source: T. Duffy, D. Cunningham (1996). Constructivism: Implications for the Design and Delivery of Instruction.
ch. 7 in Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology
. D.H. Jonassen (ed.) NY: Simon & Schuster

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Page last modified: Wednesday, November 6, 2002