Psychology of Learning for Instruction: Chapter 11 — Contructivism

*From Driscoll, M.P. (2005).  Psychology of Learning  for Instruction. (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson  Education, Inc.

There is no single constructivist theory of instruction. Driscoll points out other labels and theories that employ/embody constructivist principles. These include: constructionist, generative learning, embodied cognition, cognitive flexibility theory, postmodern and poststructural curricula, and situated cognition.

According to the constructivist view, knowledge is constructed by learners as they attempt to make sense of their experiences; we are “active organisms seeking meaning.” “[We] test candidate mental structures until a satisfactory one emerges…new particularly conflicting experiences will cause perturbations in these structures, so that they must be constructed anew in order to make sense of the new information” (p. 387-8).

“Knowledge constructions do not necessarily bear any correspondence to external reality.” Driscoll supports Cunningham’s rhizome model of memory, which implies the following:

  • the potential for knowledge construction is unlimited
  • there are unlimited possibilities for juxtaposition
  • there are no fixed points
  • there is no particular organization
  • a “slice of the rhizome reveals a person’s knowledge at that time in that context” — neither knowledge nor the ways in which we use to describe it are stable

Constructivist learning goals include:

  • Learning in context
  • Acquisition of knowledge that is actively used and continues to change
  • Self-regulation of learning
  • Development of problem solving, reasoning, critical thinking skills

“It is the job of the constructivist teacher…to hold learners in their ‘zone of proximal development’ by providing just enough help and guidance but not too much” (p.392)

In order to achieve these learning goals, the author provides the following recommendations:

  • Embed learning in complex, realistic, and relevant environments
  • Provide for social negotiation as an integral part of learning
  • Support multiple perspectives and the use of multiple modes of representation
  • Encourage ownership in learning
  • Nurture self-awareness of the knowledge construction process

Self-Awareness of Knowledge Construction [My current interest]

Reflexivity is defined as “the ability of students to be aware of their own role in the knowledge construction process” (p.401). Considered a metacognitive skill, though constructivist go further with their definition. “With reflexivity, a critical attitude exists in learners, an attitude that prompts them to be aware of how and what structures create meaning. With this awareness comes the ability to invent and explore new structures or new interpretive contexts” (p.401). “Nurturing self-awareness of knowledge construction, then, is a learning condition that constructivists assert is essential to the acquisition of goals such as reasoning, understanding multiple perspectives, and committing to a particular position for beliefs that can be articulated and defended” (p.402).


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