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Constructionism is a constructivist learning theory and theory of instruction. It states that building knowledge occurs best through building things that are tangible an sharable (Ackerman et al., 2009: 56). “Constructionism (in the context of learning) is the idea that people learn effectively through making things. Constructionism is connected with experiential learning and builds on some of the ideas of Jean Piaget.” (Wikipedia, retrieved, 17:17, 15 September 2006 (MEST)).

“Constructionism--the N word as opposed to the V word--shares constructivism's connotation of learning as "building knowledge structures" irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it's a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.” (Papert, 1991b). “Constructivism, in a nutshell, states that children are the builders of their own cognitive tools, as well as of their external realities. In other words, knowledge and the world are both construed and interpreted through action, and mediated through symbol use. Each gains existence and form through the construction of the other. [..] Because of his focus on learning through making (on could say learning as design) Papert's 'constructionism' sheds light on how people's ideas get formed and transformed when expressed through different media, when actualized in particular contexts, when worked out by individual minds. The emphasis has shifted from general laws of development to individuals' conversation with their own representations, artifacts, or objects-to-think with.” (Ackerman, 2004).

See also constructivism, Constructionist learning object

The basics according to Dougiamas

Constructionism asserts that constructivism occurs especially well when the learner is engaged in constructing something for others to see:

"Constructionism shares constructivism's connotation of learning as `building knowledge structures' irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it's a sandcastle or a theory of the universe... If one eschews pipeline models of transmitting knowledge in talking among ourselves as well as in theorizing about classrooms, then one must expect that I will not be able to tell you about my idea of constructionism. Doing so is bound to trivialize it. Instead, I must confine myself to engage you in experiences (including verbal ones) liable to encourage your own personal construction of something in some sense like it. Only in this way will there be something rich enough in your mind to be worth talking about." (Papert, 1990)

Important concepts are conscioulsy engaged and public entity. Constructionism is not just learning-by-doing, but engaging reflexively and socially in the task. Both the creation process and the produced artifacts ought to be socially shared.

Artifacts popular with constructionists include digital artifacts (e.g. things one can build with microworlds. “As adults, we all have times when we need to teach or explain something we know to someone else. To do this, we may have to bone up on the subject, talk with others, prepare notes and draw diagrams. In the process, we learn our subject well because we have to think hard about it and think of the best ways to convey it to others. It is through the creation and sharing of an object (maybe notes or diagrams or even a website or computer program) that it becomes what Papert calls a public entity and that constructionist learning is so powerfully reinforced. [...] Papert also added to this process a computer program that allows us to visually represent ideas and concepts and play with them for as long as we want.” (Harel, 2003).

In studying constructivism, it has become apparent for Dougiamas that one of the most important processes in developing his knowledge has been by explaining and exploring his ideas in conversation with fellow students. He noticed, on reflection, that a great deal of his own development was fostered by participating in ongoing dialogue and creating "texts" for others to answer back to, whether in conversation or as a class presentation. He feels also that the construction of web sites and computer sofware (Dougiamas, 1999) has a similar effect.

Gergen (1995) explores the use of the metaphor of dialogue to evaluate a number of educational practices. Particularly, he views knowledge as fragments of dialogue, knowledgeable tellings at a given time within an ongoing relationship. This relationship can be between learners, between a learner and a teacher, or between a learner and an environment experienced by the learner. Gergen describes a lecture as a conversation where, because the lecturer has already set the content, the student enters part-way through the dialogue and finds they have no voice within it.

Steier (1995) looks into this dialogue process in more detail. Steier highlights the circularity of reflective thinking in social research, and presents a number of ways mirroring occurs between learners (like two mirrors facing each other) where each reciprocator affects the other. Awareness of such issues can help frame the dialogue used to communicate more effectively.

For your own learning, this single essay is a poor vehicle. Here I am, stringing together words about constructivism in my word processor, and there you are, reading these words using your own cognitive framework, developed via your own unique background and frameworks of language and meaning. I am translating a variety of texts, using them to build an understanding on my own background, then translating my new understandings into building my own text, which you are deconstructing to reconstruct your own understanding. All these translations are introducing unknowns and I can never know if I am reaching you. In attempting to teach through this medium, all I can hope to do is to stimulate a curiosity in you to read further on these subjects, to write about them, to talk to people about them, and to apply them wherever possible in your own situations.

Constructivism and creativty

Some authors, e.g. Ackermann (2009:59) links constructionism and creativity through flow theory. The “idea of an optimal learning environment is one where the activity engaged in is perceived as meaningful, one's abilites are in balance with the challenge at hand, and one has the tools to express the emerging knowledge”. In that respect, constructionist though also can be related to instructional designs like writing-to-learn and finally to transformative pedagogy.


Most modern (socio)-constructivist or situated designs do have a constructionist component. DSchneider believes that environments that don't, do not deserve the label "constructivism": E.g. the initial author of this article quotes Dougiamas a lot, but his Moodle system - the only LMS I bear to use - is just one of those border cases within which construction and collaboration are encouraged but not very well supported in reality- In particular, collaborative knowledge construction (modern constructionism) is difficult because students can't see each others homework, wikis are extremely local and do not extend outside a class, etc. Fortunately there are several extensions that got towards this direction. Collaborative knowledge construction is definitly the way Moodle has to go if it doesn't want to become yet another Scorm engine.

Microworlds, Constructionist learning objects, and educational tangible objects represent the ideal-typical incarnation of constructionism.

An example of a popular technology built upon Constructionist theory is the Sugar learning platform on OLPC laptops.



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  • Ackermann, Edith K. (2004). Constructing Knowledge And Transforming The world, A learning zone of one's own: Sharing representations and flow in collaborative learning environments [M. Tokoro and L.Steels (Eds.). Amsterdam, Berlin, Oxford, Tokyo, Washington, DC. IOS Press, 2004. Part 1. Chapt 2. pp. 15-37.
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  • Harel, Idit (2003) Building software beats using it. HTML, retrieved, 17:17, 15 September 2006 (MEST).
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