I’ve been working on an article for a special issue of BJET on Constructivism and Educational Technology, which started out as a kind of retrospective or reflection on my 2001 article. As I progressed further and further into the thinking and writing, it became clear to me that exploring and reflecting upon the theoretical and empirical developments that have occurred over recent years and reconciling these with the original works that underpin a constructivist position will be a major undertaking and not one I can complete in time for the special issue.
As a starting point for taking on this more substantial body of work, which I’m keen to do, I thought I’d share here some of the challenges I think need to be tackled as part of this as an invitation to others who may want to join me on this journey.
- How to position the ideas of the cognitive load theorists and others who have provided empirical evidence against pure discovery learning (e.g. Mayer, Kirschner, Sweller, Clark, Alferi etc) which on the one hand are explicitly anti-constructivist but on the other hand provide arguments in support of scaffolded or guided discovery learning (ala Bruner and Vygotsky).
- How to position self regulation, meta-cognition and theories of motivation (e.g. the work of Pintrich, Zimmerman, Winne, Schunk etc), which have their genesis in cognitive theories of learning but which arguably can provide key underpinnings to strategies within a Piagetian process of construction and reconstruction of one’s personal knowledge representation.
- Whether to position Connectivism (Siemens and Downes) as a branch of a social constructivist theory of learning, as a unique theory of learning (as they have positioned it) or (as I have done in the past) to argue that it is not a theory of learning at all.
- How to position the notion of Epistemic Fluency (e.g. Goodyear, Markauskaite) within a broader social constructivist pedagogy particularly in higher education and education for the professions.
- How to reconcile what we now know from contemporary neuroscience and psychology about the interplay between the conscious and unconscious parts of our brain (as articulated well by Gladwell and by Kahneman who refers to Fast System 1 and Slow System 2 thinking) with fundamental constructivist ideas. For example the notion that we may have two separate knowledge representations: a) one we have consciously constructed and reconstructed as we scrutinise our personal hypotheses against the responses of our environment to our actions, used when we make slow deliberate decisions, and b) a separate one that consists of abstract patterns constructed out of the millions of images, sounds and sensations we take in all the time intertwined with complex emotional attributions, which we use to make fast automated decisions every minute of our lives.
- How to weave in what we now know from studies of the role of sleep (as summarised very well by Walker) that through REM sleep during a number of nights following a learning experience we gradually lay down new interconnections between experiences and prior learning, and so the question of whether we need to refine Piaget’s notions of assimilation and accommodation as being delayed rather than instant processes.
I’d love to see thoughts and comments on any of these ideas and/or to hear from others who have an interest in aspects of this and would like to be part of a loose virtual community to discuss and evolve constructivist learning theories in light of these and other recent developments.
Alferi, L., Brooks, P. J., Aldrich, N. J., & Tenenbaum, H. R. (2011). Does discovery-based instruction enhance learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(1), 1-18.
Bruner, J. S. (1961). The act of discovery. Harvard Educational Review, 31, 21-32.
Bruner, J. S. (1962). On knowing: Essays for the left hand. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Downes, S. (2008). Places to go: Connectivism & connective knowledge. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 5(1), 6.
Gladwell, M. (2006). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. Back Bay Books.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.
Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clarke, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.
Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (2017). Epistemic fluency and professional education. Dordrecht: Springer.
Mayer, R. E. (2004). Should there be a three-strikes rule against pure discovery learning? American Psychologist, 59(1), 14-19.
Phillips, D. C. (1995). The good, the bad, and the ugly: The many faces of constructivism. Educational Researcher, 24(7)5-12.
Piaget, J. (1977). Science of education and the psychology of the child (D. Coltman, Trans.). In H.E. Gruber & J.J. Voneche (Eds.). The essential Piaget (pp. 695-725). New York: Basic Books, Inc.
Piaget, J. (1973). To understand is to invent: The future of education. New York: Grossman.
Pintrich, P. R. (1999). The role of motivation in promoting and sustaining self-regulated learning. International journal of educational research, 31(6), 459-470.
Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (Eds.). (1998). Self-regulated learning: From teaching to self-reflective practice. Guilford Press.
Siemens, G. (2007). Connectivism: Creating a learning ecology in distributed environments. Didactics of microlearning. Concepts, discourses and examples, 53-68.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Walker, M. (2017). Why we sleep: The new science of sleep and dreams. Penguin UK.
Winne, P. H., & Hadwin, A. F. (2012). The weave of motivation and self-regulated learning. In Motivation and self-regulated learning (pp. 309-326). Routledge.