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  • “Objectivists view meaning as existing externally, that is, independent of the individual learner. Instructionists, then, emphasize methods that establish and convey the meaning of objects and events consistently and efficiently across learners. The learner's task is to recognize and label relevant objects and events, organize them into coherent chunks, and integrate new with existing knowledge. The learner accomplishes these tasks principally by decoding the established meaning of various objects and events, using the cueing and amplification devices provided by the learning systems designer.” (Hannafin 97).
  • “In the objectivist theory (Marra and Jonassen, 1993), a nominalistic view of knowledge is held. Knowledge is thus regarded as existing independently of any human experience and the role of the learner is to acquire it. Objectivists place a strong emphasis on defining learning objectives and implicitly assume that the learner is an empty vessel, to be filled by the instructor (Reeves, 1992).” (Philips, 1998).

Objectivism vs. constructivism

Objectivism is the opposite of non-trivial constructivism. For Bednar, Cunningham, Duffy and Perry (1991), objectivism is a view of the nature of knowledge and what it means to know something. In this view, the mind is an instantiation of a computer, manipulating symbols in the same way....These symbols acquire meaning when an external and independent reality is "mapped" onto them in our interactions in the world. Knowledge, therefore is some entity existing independent of the mind of individuals, and is transferred "inside". Cognition is the rule-based manipulation of these symbols...this school of thought believes that the external world is mind independent (i.e., the same for everyone) and we can say things about it that are objectively, absolutely and unconditionally true or false....Consistent with this view of knowledge, the goal of instruction, from both the behavioral and cognitive information processing perspectives, is to communicate or transfer knowledge to learners in the most efficient, effective manner possible. Knowledge can be completely characterized using the techniques of semantic analysis (or its second cousin, task analysis). One key to efficiency and effectiveness is simplification and regularization: thought is atomistic in that it can be completely broken down into simple building blocks, which form the basis of instruction. (p. 91)

For Jonassen (1991, p10), constructivism claims that reality is constructed by the knower based upon mental activity. Humans are perceivers and interpreters who construct their own reality through engaging in those mental activities...thinking is grounded in perception of physical and social experiences, which can only be comprehended by the mind. What the mind produces are mental models that explain to the knower what he or she has perceived.... We all conceive of the external reality somewhat differently, based on our unique set of experiences with the world and our beliefs about them.

Bednar, et al (1991) elaborates further. The learner is building an internal representation of knowledge, a personal interpretation of experience. This representation is constantly open to change, its structure and linkages forming the foundation to which other knowledge structures are appended. Learning is an active process in which meaning is developed on the basis of experience....Conceptual growth comes from the sharing of multiple perspectives and simultaneous changing of our internal representations in response to those perspectives as well as through cumulative experience. Consistent with this view of knowledge, learning must be situated in a rich context, reflective of real world contexts, for this constructive process to occur and transfer to environments beyond the school (p. 91-2).

Other authors prefer to talk about a continuum: “Although there are many theories of learning in the field of educational psychology, two major and pervasive theories well represented in the literature are Objectivism and Constructivism. These are often portrayed as mutually exclusive (Marra and Jonassen, 1993), but Reeves (Reeves, 1992) has pointed out that there is a continuum between objectivism and constructivism.” (Philips, 1998).

Implications for instructional design

“Methods consistent with these [objectivist] assumptions tend to emphasize learning contexts that support the transition from initial, propositional knowledge to signalling when and how it can be used. Instructional analysis procedures can be used to analyze the information requirements and conditional structures of performance. Consistent with Gagné's (1996) views on the learning of intellectual skills, complex skills such as problem-solving are seen as hierarchically dependent on the learning of lower-order skills and concepts, that is, lower-order skills are prerequisite to complex skill development. Thus, declarative or verbal information required for complex conceptual knowledge is identified, isolated, and taught in an appropriate sequence. This is a widely accepted approach among objectivists and is consonant with traditional cognitive psychological foundations emphasizing learning as an incremental, mathemagenically-facilitated process.” (Hannafin 97).

Also according to Philips (1998) “a strength of objectivism is its ability to address novice learning situations”. Therefore, to implement learning scenarios that aim the acquisition of complex knowledge structures or learning strategies it is suggested to select strategies at the constructivist end of the continuum. (Marra and Jonassen, 1993).

See Also


  • Bednar, A.K., Cunningham, D., Duffy, T.M., and Perry, J.D. (1991). Theory into practice: How do we link? In G. Anglin (Ed.), Instructional Technology: Past, Present and Future. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc. HTML
  • Dick, W., & Carey, L. (1996). The systematic design of instruction (4th Ed.). Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, and Company.
  • Gagné, R., Briggs, L., & Wager, W. (1988). Principles of instructional design (3rd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
  • Michael J. Hannafin (1997). The Case for Grounded Learning Systems Design: What the Literature Suggests About Effective Teaching, Learning, and Technology, AsciLite '97. HTML
  • Jonassen, D. (1991). Objectivism vs constructivism: Do we need a new philosophical paradigm? Educational Technology, Research and Development, 39(3), 5-13. HTML
  • Marra, R. and Jonassen, D. (1993). In Ely, D. and Minor, B. (Eds), Educational Media and Technology Yearbook. Libraries Unlimited, Inc. Published in cooperation with ERIC and AECT., Englewood CO, pp. 56-77.
  • Philips, Rob (1998). Models of learning appropriate to educational applications of information technology, eaching and Learning Forum, held at the University of Western Australia. HTML
  • Reeves, T. C. (1992). In Information Technology for Training and Education Conference, (ITTE'92). The University of Queensland, Brisbane.