Constructivist Theories

Heim Upp From Theory to Practice Constructivist Theories

 

J. Bruner Lev Vygotsky Reuven Feuerstein

 

Constructivist Theories.

In the view of constructivist, learning is a constructive process in which the learner is building an internal illustration of knowledge, a personal interpretation of experience.  This representation is continually open to modification, its structure and linkages forming the ground to which other knowledge structures are attached.  Learning is an active process in which meaning is accomplished on the basis of experience.  This view of knowledge does not necessarily reject the existence of the real world, and agrees that reality places constrains on the concepts that are, but contends that all we know of the world are human interpretations of our experience of the world.  Conceptual growth comes from the sharing of various perspectives and the simultaneous changing of our internal representations in response to those perspectives as well as through cumulative experience (Bednar, Cunnigham, Duffy, Perry, 1995).

The fundamental challenge of construcivism is in its changing the locus of control over learning from the teacher to the student.  Educational technologists, with their foundations in behavioural psychology, have sought to design programs in such a way that students would be enticed to achieve prespecified objectives.  Constructivists have said that this violates both what we know now about the nature of learning (situated, interactive) and about the nature of knowledge (perspectival, conventional, tentative, evolutionary).  They have claimed that objectives should be negotiated with students based on their own felt needs, that programmed activities should emerge from within the contexts of their lived worlds, that students should work together with peers in the social construction of personally significant meaning, and that evaluation should be a personalised ongoing, shared analysis of progress (Hanckbarth,S., 1996, p.11).

Agreeing with this view of knowledge, learning must be placed in a rich context, reflective of real world context, for this constructive process to happen and transfer to environments beyond the school or training classroom.  Learning through cognitive apprenticeship, mirroring the collaboration of real world problem solving, and using the tools available in problem solving situations, are key.  How effectual or instrumental the learner’s knowledge structure is in facilitating thinking in the content field is the measure of learning  (Bednar, Cunnigham, Duffy, Perry, 1995, p103-104).

    Educational Aspects. 

The study of human cognition has many specific applications for educational practice and technology use.  The following are five general educational applications of constructive theory that should be considered when designing instruction.

First, if learning depends on how information is mentally processed, then students’ cognitive processes should be major concern to educators.  Students’ learning difficulties can often be attributed to ineffective or inappropriate cognitive processes.  For example, learning disabled children process information less effectively than nondisabled children (Swanson, 1987).  Teachers must become aware of not only of what students learn, but also of how they attempt to learn it.

Second, educators must consider students’ levels of cognitive development when planning topics and methods of instruction.  For example, explanations based on concrete operational logic are unlikely to be effective ways of presenting ideas to preoperational kindergarteners.  Concrete operational elementary school children have difficulties in understanding abstract ideas that do not tie in with their own experiences.  These students will learn more effectively if the same information is presented through concrete, hands-on examples.  Even high school and college students, who have not completed the formal operational stage, will need concrete experiences prior to presenting abstract material..

Third, students organise the information they learn. Teachers can help students’ learn by presenting organised information and by helping students see how one thing relates to another.

Fourth, new information is most likely acquired when people can associate it with things they have already learned.  Therefore, teachers should help students’ learn by showing them how new ideas relate to old ones.  When students are unable to relate new information to anything with which they are familiar, learning is likely to be slow and ineffective.

Fifth, B.F. Skinner (1954, 1968) has argued from an operant conditioning perspective that students must actively respond if they are to learn.  Cognitivists share that with Skinner; however, they emphasise mental activity rather than physical one.  If students control their own cognitive process, it is ultimately the students themselves who decide what information will be learned, and how.

 The constructivist learning strategies and the use of Instructional Technology.

 The ideas of Piaget concerning the active construction, structuring knowledge and stages of development, have been drawn on for long in education and specially in using computers in education.  For example Davis remarks how:

The stress on the stage-like nature of cognition has given support to the notion of readiness-children will only learn effectively if their educational experience are suitably matched to their current level of understanding (Davis, 1991, p.19).

Usually schools ensure that children have many opportunities to interact with their environment and are given plenty of concrete materials to develop their mathematical understanding.  In using computers in education, Seymor Papert, who worked with Jean Piaget in Geneva, was particularly influenced by Piaget´s ideas and argued that educational software should be designed to develop children’s thinking.  He applied these arguments to the use of the programming language LOGO, which he claims can benefit children in their mathematical thinking.  He claims that LOGO provides a culture which helps to make abstract mathematical concepts simple and concrete so that the child can relate them to his or her existing knowledge and fit them into his or her knowledge structure(Jones,1995 ).

One metaphor which has been strong influence on Papert´s work is the way children learn to talk.  This process happens without any formal organised learning and is encouraged by the environment.  Papert used this analogy in describing ´Mathland´  ´a context which is to learn Maths like living in France is learning French´  (Jones,1995, Spencer, 1995).

One aspect that Papert built into LOGO was the ´Turtle´, triangular cursor that can be moved and rotated by the child, to produce a geometrical drawing.  The potential of LOGO to allow the user to illustrate his own commands and thus extend the power of language, is one of its main attractiveness and strengths.  The programmer uses the thought of ´recursion´ to simplify the structure of the program.  Recursion means ´repeat what you knew earlier (but with a slight difference)´.  A complicated figure is drawn by using one previously defined command and repeating several times with small changes in size and rotation.  By experimenting with such programming, Papert reason that , children gain insights into how complex ideas are structured from simpler ones.  This insight, achieved in the context of ´turtle geometry´, is alleged to transfer to other domains of learning as well (Romiszowski 1997).

One issue raised by Papert´s approach to computers in education was that of resource.  He had the notion of the computer as an everyday tool like the pencil, and each child needed an easy access to one.  He acknowledged the requirement for a vast number of computers and for children to have a lot of exposure.  This has not been possible for most schools and the pattern of the use of computers in schools have evolved to the children working in small groups.  There are some evidences (Bennett, 1987, Galton, 1989) that when working with computers, children are collaborating rather than just working alongside each other, which is often the case in childrens´ group working.  Some evidence show that when children are working with computer, the interaction is related to the task and the children relay on each other for help rather than the teacher. But the success on a session depends on how the teacher has prepared the work and who is working together and what the task it (Jones 1995).

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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Sólrún B. Kristinsdóttir © 2001 Síðast uppfært 21.10.2008

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