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Although there are many different ways to define constructivism, Jerome Bruner (pictured, below right) was the one of the first to explore and define the concept as a viable theory of learning. The following definition is taken from an entry in Greg Kearsley’s “Theory into Practice” database (http://tip.psychology.org):
“A major theme in the theoretical framework of Bruner is that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. The learner selects and transforms information, constructs hypotheses, and makes decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so. Cognitive structure (i.e., schema, mental models) provides meaning and organization to experiences and allows the individual to ‘go beyond the information given.”
This description highlights the two fundamental elements of constructivism:
1) Knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, not passively received from the environment
2) Understanding is an adaptive process driven by learners’ need/desire to organize their experiential world. Learners do no, and perhaps cannot discover an independent pre-existing world outside their own mind.
In addition, most constructivist models include references to the important of social interaction within the learning environment. Reiber (2000) summarized three primary characteristics of learning within the constructivist paradigm:
1) Learning is an active and controllable process in which meaning is constructed by each individual
2) Learning is also a social activity founded on collaboration and mutual respect of different viewpoints
3) Learning is embedded in the building of artifacts that are shared and critiqued by one's peers
Researchers and theorists investigating and defining constructivism have identified and described some common characteristics of meaningful learning environments. In Jonassen, Peck and Wilson’s text Learning With Technology: A Constructivist Perspective (1999, Merrill Publishing), the authors include the following five categories representing necessary components of meaningful learning environments. The descriptions of each category have been elaborated upon using other constructivist models of design (for example, Cunningham, Duffy and Knuth, 1993; Herrington & Oliver, 1997)
Opportunities for Authentic Learning: Instructional contexts are defined that reflect the manner in which the outcomes to be learned are practiced in the real world. This often includes ill-structured, real-world problems. In addition, the instruction (teachers, other students, and/or educational media) facilitates the learner’s evaluation of alternate strategies and methods for solving problems.
Opportunities for Active Learning: The instructional context enables the learners to explore and manipulate the components and parameters of their environment, and observe the results of their activities.
Opportunities for Intentional Learning: The instruction provides the learners with an opportunity to determine and set their own goals and manage/regulate their own activities. Learners select the methods they feel will help them sucCOEd within the learning environment. The instruction provides coaching, modeling, and other forms of support to facilitate the application of effective methods and strategies for sucCOEding within the learning environment.
Opportunities for Constructive Learning: Instructional strategies are facilitated that encourage learners to articulate what they have been learning and reflect upon the importance and meaning of the outcomes in larger social and intellectual contexts. Efforts should be made to enable learners to communicate their ideas using any appropriate media: oral, written, graphic, video, etc.
Opportunities for Cooperative Learning: Instructional strategies are implemented that enable learners to collaborate and socially negotiate their meanings of the events and information presented within the learning experience between themselves and other learners, outside experts, and the teacher. Access to expert performances may also play an important role within the cooperative learning environment.
Why is constructivism an important concept for teachers? One of the most important reasons is that the principles of constructivism can be used to help define purposeful, meaningful (and, consequently, highly effective) learning environments. The following page presents a sampling of different types of learning environments based on constructivist ideas:
Download information about constructivist-oriented strategies here:
Program - NAU College of Education
For questions and comments about this web site, please contact Greg.Sherman@nau.edu
This page last modified on August 09, 2002