Education and Values: Interface on the Internet

Constuctivist Foundations of Teaching For Learning

Constructivism is a philosophy of learning based on the concept that when individuals learn they do not passively acquire or absorb a new understanding. Instead, new information is actively assimilated into exisiting cognitive structures while simultaneously altering these structures. Therefore what individuals learn is always framed within the context of what they already know; each of us generates our own models and our own individual understanding of the world.

Here are some characteristics of Constructivism.

1. The learner is emphasized over the teacher
2. Learning is a process of cognitive construction
3. Learning takes place best through active manipulation
4. New learning begins by activating previous understanding
5. Learning takes place best in environments that are rich and complex
6. Posing problems of emerging relevance increases authenticity and fosters motivation
7. Whenever possible original source materials should be used over predigested summaries
8. Social and cultural context are important to the understanding constructed by the learner.

In their seminal book on constructivism, Brooks and Brooks (2002) provide a contrast between traditional classrooms and constructivist classrooms

Constructivist Classrooms

Curriculum is presented whole to part with emphasis on big concepts.

Pursuit of student questions is highly valued.

Curricular activities rely heavily on primary sources of data and manipulative materials.

Students are viewed as thinkers with emerging theories about the world.

Teachers generally behave in an interactive manner, mediating the environment for students.

Teachers seek the students' points of view in order to understand students' present conceptions for use in subsequent lessons.

Assessment of student learning is interwoven with teaching and occurs through teacher observations of students at work and through student exhibitions and portfolios.

Students primarily work in groups.

Traditional Classrooms

Curriculum is presented part to whole, with emphasis on basic skills.

Strict adherence to fixed curriculum is highly valued

Curricular activities rely heavily on textbooks and workbooks

Students are viewed as "blank slates" onto which information is etched by the teacher

Teachers generally behave in a didactic manner, disseminating information to students.

Teachers seek the correct answer to validate student learning

Assessment of student learning is viewed as separate from teaching and occurs almost entirely through testing.

Students primarily work alone.

This graphic is one means of representing the importance of active manipulation and authentic experiences as a foundation for powerful, memorable learning. This concept is a foundational element of constructivist learning and teaching. Dale (1946)

How can we design learning environments that are based on constructivist learning principles? Jonassen offers a number of suggestions focusing on "keeping students active, constructive, collaborative, intentional, complex, contextual, conversational, and reflective"
(Jonnassen http://www.coe.missouri.edu/~jonassen/courses/CLE/).

Designing A Constructivist Learning Environment

For reflections and concrete ideas about the manner in which technology can be utilized to design and support constructivist learning, please continue to the next page.


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Last Updated 1/23/02
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Questions: Mark Bailey - baileym@pacificu.edu