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Discussion about Constructivism

My post on Constructivism



In my experience, Mr. Pie’s methods of self-discovery (Funk, 2003) seem vaguely familiar in primary and secondary subjects such as science and math, but subjects like history and English were more teacher-centered/ teacher-directed and lecture-based. It has been during my experience as an adult online student that evidence of constructivist approaches became more prevalent.  


Online learning seems a perfect medium for self-directedness. This discussion assignment is a good example of the kind of learning exchange that occurs within the realm of constructivism: We were asked to discover new learning through the four chosen readings (it could be argued this is exemplary of guided instruction [Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, 2006]). We were then asked to relate new discovery with something we already knew and share our experiences with others. Our instructor will share her thoughts and entice more meaningful learning by asking us probing questions (perhaps she will be helping us move new-found knowledge into the working memory so that we might store it in our long-term memory [Kirschner et al., 2006). The ultimate goal is that our perceptions will be broadened as we add others’ perspectives to our existing schema.


I am a self-proclaimed “‘instructional constructivist’” (Null, 2004, p. 181). In my online classrooms, “…meaning making is central to the learning process” (p. 181). One course I designed deliberately asks students to draw upon their own experiences as they complete assignments that are relevant to their lives. It is, after all, a course called Adult Learning. Much like this course, Adult Learning is a social course, in which “[c]onstructing meaning comes from interacting with others to explain, defend, discuss, and assess our ideas and challenge, question, and comprehend the ideas of others” (Sherman & Kurshan, 2005, p. 12). One thing I have discovered, as an adult student, is learning is much more interesting when allowed to make connections between what I know and what I have just learned (Sherman & Kurshan, 2005). I have also discovered, as a facilitator of adult learners, adults like to share their expertise with others.


Constructivism allows students time to think for themselves (Funk, 2003; Sherman & Kurshan, 2005)—a benefit. The instructor must take an active role in the learning process, designing lessons that tap into students’ prior knowledge and implement teaching practices that are interactive (Null, 2004). They must also offer skilled guidance (Funk, 2003; Kirschner et al., 2006) so that students are able to retain the information presented. I humbly posit students expect this level of partnership in their learning journey. Unfortunately, this can be where constructivism falls short. In the online environment feedback is essential to student learning. Instructor comments and questions or immediate feedback provide by technological resources help students delve deeper, explain more fully, and make new meaning (Sherman & Kurshan, 2005). Kirschner et al. (2006) assumedly support this, as they report, “ minimally guided instruction is likely to be ineffective” (p. 76). Unfortunately, providing effective feedback is somewhat of an art—n ot one that comes naturally; therefore lack of guided instruction can cause disconnect in student learning.





Funk, C. (2003, November). James Otto and the Pi man: A constructivist tale. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(3), 212-214.


Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, 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.


Null, J. W. (2004). Is constructivism traditional? Historical and practical perspectives on a popular advocacy. The Educational Forum, 83, 180-188.


Sherman, T. M., & Kurshan, B. L. (2005, February). Constructing learning: Using technology to support teaching for understanding. Learning & Leading with Technology, 32(5), 10-13, 39.


One of the students made this point:

In my view, while learning is focused on the student, constructivism still requires some teacher-centeredness. Without guidance, students can go off on inappropriate or ineffectual tangents. Our reading stresses the importance of the role of the instructor who  must employ tactics that help the student manipulate concepts enough so that true learning occurs--when it moves from working memory to long-term memory.

I've been calling some of my schoolmates from high school and one guy told me that the best teacher he ever had, in any school, better than any professor at university, was a history professor who told great stories.  This confirms your point -- certainly from the point of view of that student -- that the role of a great teacher is to transfer or spark something in the audience.   I want to interview other students who knew teacher Ollernshaw... did those students have the same memory of those history lessons?  (My friend taylor mentioned specifically the importance of a lecture about the French Revolution, in which the various sides of the conflict and multiple parties and relationships were described by the teacher).  In creating schools of the future, what guidance can we give to our colleagues and future teachers?  Apparently find a balance (as you point out) between 

Dennis Littky in Big Picture: education is Everyone's Business (2004), has focused on identifying each child's passions -- which is time-consuming (especially when a kid doesn't appear to know what he wants or doesn't trust the teacher enough to reveal his interests).  When I was in his school for a day, the focus was on one shoe (placed on the table) for 90 minutes.  The students looked at the dimensions, the materials, how and where it was made, the content of the shoe and where other clothes in the room were made.  It was a fascinating integrated course and balanced between being centered on the teacher and students.   If you ever get a chance to visit Littky's Providence school called www.MetCenter.org, I highly recommend it.  here is a link to my documentary about the visit.