Sunday, September 5, 2010

What is Constructivism in Education?

In a recent blog post, some of the assumptions behind my thinking were identified and quite rightly challenged:

Learning new digital technologies is, in and of itself, a good thing. Fair comment. What is the point of students mastering new technology if it doesn't lift levels of engagement and thereby improve learning outcomes.

Digital media learning has an inherent "nature" or "essence", which is, at its core, best suited to "constructivist" models of learning. The problem with the term constructivism is that represents a broad spectrum of positions that include Social Radical Constructivism (there is no reality other than what I imagine). I have worried about this term myself and need to clarify what I mean by constructivism.

That risk-taking and failure are also inherently good things, and in the case of schools and digital technologies - are in fact, inevitable things. I think that some of those who are passionate about educational reform and technology believe that schools need “a bomb under them” and need to try new strategies that reflect the use of technology outside the classroom. My view about risk taking is a little different. I think we all can learn best by doing things ourselves or “learning on the job” which inevitably leads to mistakes and learning from these. As Halverson and Jenkins state:
“In the apprentice system, it was taken as given that most students would learn, eventually, what they needed to know, while the public school system starts from the premise that only a small portion of the population can fully master its expectations.”
“The idea that the apprenticeship model was successful for individual learning is by and large true. Because the master could work closely with the learner in apprenticeship, most learning failures could be mitigated or averted.”
“The long-term individualized attention to learning-from-failure that came with apprenticeship learning was not a part of traditional public schooling. This intolerance for failure at the system level has been translated into a similar intolerance to experiment at the classroom level. Contemporary public school policies insist that all students show learning progress, which has led to dominant models of instruction that emphasize efficiency, smooth learning trajectories and predictable outcomes. Schools are often reluctant to experiment with high-yield, high-risk, instructional practices. Innovation is risky - most innovations fail, and even the ones that succeed are usually fundamentally transformed before achieving wide dissemination.”

Student choice is an inherently good thing, and should, as a default position be expanded - while the teacher's power in the classroom, as a default position, should be diminished. I think that rather than leading to anarchy, teachers gain strength as leaders in the classroom by modelling their own learning. If the aim of education is to build an enthusiasm for life-long learning, students need role models who can learn with them. But, yes, it is again a valid criticism that I have not explored and argued opposing positions.

What do you think?


  1. 'hight yield, high risk' instructional practices:

    Are there particular groups of students who would benefit most from these practises? What would high yield high risk practises look/sound/feel like in practice.

    It's kind of widely understood that high risk learning can only effectively take place on the see-saw of high risk learning V's psychological safety ( the quadrant.) ..yes?

  2. I practise a lot of what you're talking about and I believe this is what sets early childhood apart from primary education!

  3. Students who take risks in their learning become independent learners who seek feedback and implement advice. They are characterised as self motivated and self regulated.