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Constructivism is first of all a theory of learning based on the idea that knowledge is constructed by the knower based on mental activity. Learners are considered to be active organisms seeking meaning. Constructivism is founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world consciously we live in. Each of us generates our own "rules" and "mental models," which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning, therefore, is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences. Constructions of meaning may initially bear little relationship to reality (as in the naive theories of children), but will become increasing more complex, differentiated and realistic as time goes on.

Guiding principles of constructivism

The physics education research group at University of Massachussets defines the premisses of constructivism as epistemology as follows:

  1. Knowledge is constructed, not transmitted.
  2. Prior knowledge impacts the learning process.
  3. Initial understanding is local, not global.
  4. Building useful knowledge structures requires effortful and purposeful activity.

How Constructivism Impacts Learning

Constructivist learning theory does not necessarily imply that one must follow a "constructivist" pedagogical strategy. In other words, most researches firmly believe that knowledge is constructed, but some (e.g. main stream instructional designers) do not adopt an instructional design that is labelled "constructivist".

Typically, a constructivist teaching strategy is based on the belief that students learn best when they gain knowledge through exploration and active learning. Hands-on materials are used instead of textbooks, and students are encouraged to think and explain their reasoning instead of memorizing and reciting facts. Education is centered on themes and concepts and the connections between them, rather than isolated information.

Instruction : Under the theory of constructivism, educators focus on making connections between facts and fostering new understanding in students. Instructors tailor their teaching strategies to student responses and encourage students to analyze, interpret, and predict information. Teachers also rely heavily on open-ended questions and promote extensive dialogue among students.

Assessment : Constructivism calls for the elimination of grades and standardized testing. Instead, assessment becomes part of the learning process so that students play a larger role in judging their own progress.

Faces Of Constructivism

Dougiamas (1998) describes the major "faces of constructivism" separately. Each of these types of constructivism are "points of view", perspectives loosely defined by a collection of writings of particular individuals in each case. These sections represent popular labels in constructivist literature used as shorthand to indicate these different groups of ideas.

Trivial constructivism

The simplest idea in constructivism, root of all the other shades of constructivism described below, is trivial constructivism (von Glasersfeld, 1990), or personal constructivism or cognitive constructivism. In this principle, Knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, not passively received from the environment. (See More...)

Radical constructivism

Radical constructivism adds a second principle to trivial constructivism (von Glasersfeld, 1990) :Coming to know is a process of dynamic adaptation towards viable interpretations of experience. The knower does not necessarily construct knowledge of a "real" world. (See More ...)

Social constructivism or Socio-Constructivism

The social world of a learner includes the people that directly affect that person, including teachers, friends, students, administrators, and participants in all forms of activity. This takes into account the social nature of both the local processes in collaborative learning and in the discussion of wider social collaboration in a given subject, such as science. (See More...)

Cultural constructivism

Beyond the immediate social environment of a learning situation are the wider context of cultural influences, including custom, religion, biology, tools and language. For example, the format of books can affect learning, by promoting views about the organisation, accessibility and status of the information they contain. (See More...)

Critical constructivism

critical constructivism looks at constructivism within a social and cultural environment, but adds a critical dimension aimed at reforming these environments in order to improve the success of constructivism applied as a referent. (See More...)


constructionism asserts that constructivism occurs especially well when the learner is engaged in constructing something for others to see. (See More...)

Constructivist pedagogical theory

This section needs some rewriting ...

Constructivism is a way of thinking about knowing, a referent for building models of teaching, learning and curriculum (Tobin and Tippin, 1993). In this sense it is a learning philosophy and it may also become a teaching philosophy.

Some common tenets

  1. Learning is a search for meaning. Therefore, learning must start with the issues around which students are actively trying to construct meaning.
  2. Meaning requires understanding wholes as well as parts. And parts must be understood in the context of wholes. Therefore, the learning process focuses on primary concepts, not isolated facts.
  3. In order to teach well, we must understand the mental models that students use to perceive the world and the assumptions they make to support those models.
  4. The purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not just memorize the "right" answers and regurgitate someone else's meaning. Since education is inherently interdisciplinary, the only valuable way to measure learning is to make the assessment part of the learning process, ensuring it provides students with information on the quality of their learning.

Constructivism also can be used to indicate a theory of communication. When you send a message by saying something or providing information, and you have no knowledge of the receiver, then you have no idea as to what message was received, and you can not unambiguously interpret the response.
Viewed in this way, teaching becomes the establishment and maintenance of a language and a means of communication between the teacher and students, as well as between students. Simply presenting material, giving out problems, and accepting answers back is not a refined enough process of communication for efficient learning. Some of the tenets of constructivism in pedagogical terms:

  • Students come to class with an established world-view, formed by years of prior experience and learning.
  • Even as it evolves, a student's world-view filters all experiences and affects their interpretation of observations.
  • For students to change their world-view requires work.
  • Students learn from each other as well as the teacher.
  • Students learn better by doing.
  • Allowing and creating opportunities for all to have a voice promotes the construction of new ideas.

A constructivist perspective views learners as actively engaged in making meaning, and teaching with that approach looks for what students can analyse, investigate, collaborate, share, build and generate based on what they already know, rather than what facts, skills, and processes they can parrot. To do this effectively, a teacher needs to be a learner and a researcher, to strive for greater awareness of the environments and the participants in a given teaching situation in order to continually adjust their actions to engage students in learning, using constructivism as a referent.

Constructivist learning environments

Most educational technologists that adopt some kind of constructivist stance also believes in collaborative learning (see socio-constructivism, CSCL etc.), construction and that learning is siutated (see situated learning).

E.g. Jonassen and Land (2002) suggests three cornerstones for constructivist learning environments:

  • Context
  • Construction
  • Collaboration.

This minimal set can be expanded, e.g. in Marcelo Milrad's (2002) Instructional design model for interactive learning environments (ILEs), we find the following elements and that can be enhanced with technology.

  • Authentic activities: presenting authentic tasks that conceptualise rather than abstract information and provide real-world, case-based contexts, rather than pre-determined instructional sequences.
  • Construction: learners should be constructing artefacts and sharing them with their community;
  • Collaboration: to support collaborative construction of knowledge through social negotiation, as opposed to competition among learners for recognition;
  • Reflection: fostering reflective practice;
  • Situating the context: enables context and content dependent knowledge construction; and,
  • Multi-modal interaction: providing multiple representations of reality, representing the natural complexity of the real world.

Many such list exist (see also the entry on socio-constructivism), but there is no clear definition of what we mean by constructivist learning environments. They certainly can be distinguished from behaviorist designs, but within distinctions may become quite subtle. As a more clearcut example we cite Hay and Barab's distinction of apprenticeship and constructionist learning environments: “In the end, we believe the differences lie in whether the learning environment has a community-centered focus or a learner-centered one. Both environments share authenticity of practices and goals, ownership of the environment by the learners, and a focus on project outcomes rather than tests. Community-centered environments focus on imparting fixed community practices, and learners are engaged in activities with well-defined goals and subgoals. The definition of success, for the learner, is becoming a community member, and the mentors are invested both in learner development and the quality of the outcome.Learner-centered environments focus on learners' developing emergent skills, where goals are ill defined, where the success is the development of a high-quality product, and where mentors are facilitators, but do not have added investment in the quality of their product.” (Hay and Barab:318).

Regarding appropriate constructivist learning environments, see the category educational technologies or the educational technologies article, and then entries like: CSCL, C3MS, Cognitive tool, Hypermodel, Hypertext, Knowledge Forum, LMs like Moodle, WISE, ...


Other articles of interest in this wiki

Variants of constructivism

socio-constructivism, social cognitive theory, cognitive apprenticeship, situated cognition, Situated learning, distributed cognition

Constructivist pedagogical designs

project-based learning, problem-based learning, inquiry learning, WebQuest, discovery learning,

Collaborative learning

collaborative learning, the many facets of computer-supported collaborative learning including more recent trends like ubiquitous learning and shared spaces.


community of practice and associated design models like knowledge-building community model, scaffolded knowledge integration

External links




  • Costa, A. & Liebmann, R. (1995). Process is as important as content. Educational Leadership. 52(6), pp 23-24.
  • Ellis, C. (1996). Evocative Autoethnography: Writing Emotionally about our lives. In: W.G. Tierney and Y.S. Lincoln (Eds) Reframing the Narrative Voice.
  • Jonassen, D. (1991). Objectivism vs. Constructivism. Educational Technology Research and Development, 39(3), 5-14.
  • Jonassen, D. (1991, September). Evaluating Constructivist Learning. Educational Technology, 36(9), 28-33.
  • Jonassen, D. (1994). Towards a constructivist design model. Educational Technology, 34(4), 34-37.
  • Jonassen, D., Davidson, M., Collins, M., Campbell, J., & Bannan-Haag, B. (1995). Constructivism and computer-mediated communication in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 9(2), 7-26.
  • Jonassen, D & Land, S. (2000). Theoretical Foundations of Learning Environments. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
  • Jonassen David H., Kyle L. Peck, and Brent G. Wilson (1998). Learning with Technology: A Constructivist Approach. Prentice Hall, ISBN 013271891X
  • Jonassen David H. & Land, Susan (1999). Theoretical Foundations of Learning Environments. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, ISBN 0805832165
  • Jonassen David H. , Jane Howland, Joi Moore, and Rose M. Marra (2002), Learning to Solve Problems with Technology: A Constructivist Perspective (2nd Edition). Prentice Hall, ISBN 0130484032
  • Jonassen David H. (2005). Modeling with Technology: Mindtools for Conceptual Change (3rd Edition), Prentice Hall, ISBN 0131703455
  • Jonassen, David H. (2007), Learning to Solve Complex Scientific Problems.
  • Hay, Kenneth E. & and Sasha A. Barab, Constructivism in Practice: A Comparison and Contrast of Apprenticeship and Constructionist Learning Environments, The Journal Of The Learning Sciences, 10(3), 281-322. PDF
  • Milrad, Marco (2002), Using Construction Kits, Modeling Tools and System Dynamics Simulations to Support Collaborative Discovery Learning, Educational Technology & Society 5 (4) 2002, ISSN 1436-4522 HTML
  • Tobin, K. & Tippins, D (1993) Constructivism as a Referent for Teaching and Learning. In: K. Tobin (Ed) The Practice of Constructivism in Science Education, pp 3-21, Lawrence-Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.
  • Von Glasersfeld, E. (1990) An exposition of constructivism: Why some like it radical. In R.B. Davis, C.A. Maher and N. Noddings (Eds), Constructivist views on the teaching and learning of mathematics (pp 19-29). Reston, Virginia: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
  • Wilson, B. (Ed.) (1996). Constructivist Learning Environments: Case Studies in Instructional Design, Englewood Cliffs: Educational Technology Publications. ISBN 013271891X
  • Wood, T., Cobb, P. & Yackel, E. (1995). Reflections on learning and teaching mathematics in elementary school. In L. P. Steffe & J.Gale (Eds) Constructivism in education (pp 401-422). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.