HOME Southwest Educational Development LaboratoryTechnology Assistance Program


Connecting Student Learning and Technology

Previous PageNext Page





Constructivism, a learning theory informed by cognitive psychology, educational research, and neurological science, views learning as the product of experience and social discourse. Constructivists consider learning to be an individual and personal event. The following principles1 are based on the work of various constructivist theorists and are offered as a framework for this discussion.

  • Learners bring unique prior knowledge, experience, and beliefs to a learning situation. Every learner has experiences that influence his or her understanding of the world. Those unique experiences are the foundation for learning; they provide opportunities for personal connections with new content.

  • Learning is internally controlled and mediated. Learners take in information, process it to fit their personal frameworks, and build new understanding. That knowledge construction occurs internally, in the private domain of each individual.

  • Knowledge is constructed in multiple ways, through a variety of tools, resources, experiences, and contexts. Constructivist learning theory tells us that we learn in a variety of ways. The more opportunities we have, and the more actively engaged we are, the richer our understanding. Good teachers have always used experience as a valuable instructional tool; that is why we arrange field trips and hands-on projects. It is why an internship or apprenticeship is essential to the completion of most vocations, including teaching.

  • Learning is a process of accommodation, assimilation, or rejection to construct new conceptual structures, meaningful representations, or new mental models. Every person is surrounded by an infinite variety of images, ideas, information, and other stimuli that provide raw material for thought and understanding. If new information matches the learner's existing understanding, it is easily assimilated. If it does not match, the learner must determine how to accommodate it, either by forming new understanding, or rejecting the information.

  • Learning is both an active and reflective process. Learners combine experience (action) and thought (reflection) to build meaning. Both parts must be present to support the creation of new knowledge.

  • Social interaction introduces multiple perspectives through reflection, collaboration, negotiation, and shared meaning. In many situations, learning is enhanced by verbal representation of thoughts--it helps to speak about an idea, to clarify procedures, or float a theory to an audience. The exchange of different perceptions between learners enriches an individual's insight.
What Constructivism Offers the Classroom

Constructivism is a theory of learning, but it does not dictate how that theory should be translated into classroom practice. It is up to teachers and other educators to provide environments that support the ways students learn--learner-centered classrooms. Lessons that allow little opportunity for student response or discussion are not learner-centered; the focus is on the text or on the teacher. Such teacher-centered classrooms are often described as "traditional," although there are many time-honored instructional strategies that do not fit the teacher-centered model. To contrast the differences between a teacher-centered ("traditional") classroom and a learner-centered classroom, let's visit two seventh grade social studies classes studying U. S. geography.

Traditional Classroom
The teacher begins the unit by having the students read aloud from their textbook's chapter on the Great Lakes states. As they read, the teacher writes new vocabulary words on the chalkboard. Using their textbook, the students identify these words and answer questions from the end of the chapter. The teacher checks for student understanding by asking short-answer questions ("Jim, what is the primary product of the Great Lakes area? Jackie, what is the difference between spring wheat and winter wheat?"), and by giving the students a blank map to fill in the state names in the region. Students check each other's homework, which is the completion of moderate-length sentences from a worksheet (How has state legislation recently affected commerce in Wisconsin?). During one class period, the teacher shows a film about the history of the railroad and its impact on Chicago. Students are reminded they will be tested on the content of the film and they should ask any questions they have about it. There are no student questions. As a review, the students play a game based on important facts and vocabulary, and a written test completes the unit.
Learner-Centered Classroom
The teacher2 begins by asking the students what they know about the Great Lakes region ("Chicago, Cleveland, Lake Michigan? Are any of these names familiar?") from trips, readings, TV programs, or stories. Before assigning the chapter, the teacher tells the students that they will be taking a road trip to one of the cities in the region and they should be thinking about where they would like to visit as they read the text. Students then write to the Chamber of Commerce for information on that city; interview people who have been to or are from that city; calculate their budget for gas, food, and lodging; plan the route of the trip; and make daily journal entries about the geography, culture, economy, and people of that city. All information is assembled in a portfolio and shared with others in the class. The portfolio includes such information as the travel budget, the length of time to drive from the student's home to the city, photos, descriptions of noteworthy people and places, and the ways the city resembles and differs from the student's hometown.

PreviousNext Page

Introduction Intro to Constructivism Classroom Activities Computers and Constructivism Classroom Technology





Front Page Copyright 1999 Southwest Educational Development Laboratory