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|Constructivism: Constructivist Theory And Social Development Theory|
Just as Cognitive Learning Psychology began replacing the predominant Behavioral Psychology in the 1970's, Constructivist Learning Psychology has been challenging the cognitive approach from the 1990's.
Constructivism can be seen as a philosophy as well as a set of instructional practices. As a philosophy, constructivism suggests that although there is a real world out there, there is no meaning inherent in it. Thus, meaning is imposed by people and cultures. As a set of instructional practices, constructivism favors processes over end products; guided discovery over expository learning; authentic, embedded learning situations over abstracted, artificial ones; portfolio assessments over multiple-choice exams, and so on. This distinction may suggest that one can be a constructivist in philosophy without always using constructivist teaching methods.
Constructivism is an approach to teaching and learning based on the premise that cognition (learning) is the result of mental construction. Knowledge is not received from outside, but by reflecting on our experiences, by fitting new information together with what we already know we construct knowledge in our head. Thus, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. Learning is the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences. Constructivist theorists support that people learn best when they actively construct their own understanding.
In the Constructivist theory the emphasis is placed on the learner rather than the teacher. It is the learner who interacts with objects and events and thereby gains an understanding of the features held by such objects or events. The learners individually discover and transform complex information constructing their own conceptualizations and solutions to problems. In constructivist thinking learning is also affected by the context and the beliefs and attitudes of the learner.
There are two major strands of the constructivist perspective: Cognitive constructivism and Social constructivism; Although different in emphasis they share the same basic assumption about learning. Jonassen (1994) proposed that there are eight characteristics that differentiate constructivist learning environments. These eight characteristics would be supported by both social and cognitive constructivists:
1. Constructivist learning environments provide multiple representations of reality.
2. Multiple representations avoid oversimplification and represent the complexity of the real world.
3. Constructivist learning environments emphasize knowledge construction inserted of knowledge reproduction.
4. Constructivist learning environments emphasize authentic tasks in a meaningful context rather than abstract instruction out of context.
5. Constructivist learning environments provide learning environments such as real-world settings or case-based learning instead of predetermined sequences of instruction.
6. Constructivist learning environments encourage thoughtful reflection on experience.
7. Constructivist learning environments"enable context- and content- dependent knowledge construction."
8. Constructivist learning environments support "collaborative construction of knowledge through social negotiation, not competition among learners for recognition."
Jerome Bruner: Constructivist Theory
Bruner's early research on thinking stirred his interest in educational approaches that encourage the development of thinking. He formulated a theory of cognitive growth that postulates:
He supported that as children develop their actions are less constrained by immediate stimuli, and that cognitive process mediate the relationship between stimulus and response. This implies that learners might maintain the same response in a changing environment or perform different responses in the same environment, according to what they consider adaptive.
Jerome Bruner identified three stages of cognitive growth:
A major theme in the theoretical framework of Bruner is that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. Bruner's work emphasized the importance of understanding the structure of a subject being studied, the need for active learning as the basis for true understanding, and the value of reasoning in learning. His constructivist theory is a general framework for instruction based upon the study of cognition.
In Bruner's Constructivist Theory learners engage in discovery learning obtaining knowledge by themselves. They select and transform information, construct hypotheses, and make decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so. In order for discovery to occur learners require background preparation in the form of a cognitive structure that provides meaning and organization to experiences and allows the individual to "go beyond the information given".
Bruner emphasized teaching as a means of enhancing cognitive development, hence the task of the teacher is to translate information to be learned into a format appropriate to the learner's current state of understanding. The instructor should try and encourage students to discover principles by themselves, and both learners and teachers should engage in an active dialog (Socratic learning). Curriculum should be organized in a spiral manner so that the student continually builds upon what they have already learned.
Bruner (1966) states that a theory of instruction should address four major aspects:
Good methods for structuring knowledge should result in simplifying, generating new propositions, and increasing the manipulation of information.
Bruner illustrated his theory in the context of mathematics and social science programs for young children. The following is an example taken from Bruner (1973):
Bruner, Jerome S. & Goodman, Cecile C. (1947). Value and need as organizing
factors in perception. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 42,
Bruner, Jerome S. & Postman, Leo. (1949). On the perception of incongruity:
A paradigm. Journal of Personality, 18, 206-223.
Bruner, J. (1960). The Process of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bruner, J. (1966). Toward a Theory of Instruction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bruner, J. (1973). Going Beyond the Information Given. New York: Norton.
Bruner, J. (1983). Child's Talk: Learning to Use Language. New York: Norton.
Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lev Semenovich Vygotsky: Social Development Theory
Vygotsky is the main proponent of the Social Constructivist approach to learning. His theoretical framework supports that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition:
In terms of cognitive development Vygotsky's theory supports that learning proceeds development. He believes that developmental processes lag behind the learning processes pointing out that children can often complete tasks with the help of others that they could not accomplish working independently. The abilities that children can demonstrate when given assistance are in the process of becoming internalized, what implies that cognitive development is limited to this certain time span which he calls the "zone of proximal development" (ZPD).
The zone of proximal development is the difference between an individual's current level of development and his or her potential level of development. The range of skill that can be developed with adult guidance or peer collaboration exceeds what can be attained alone. Furthermore, full development during the ZPD depends upon full social interaction.
Vygotsky argues that at any given time in development there are certain problems that children are on the verge of being able to solve, all they need is structure, clues, reminders, help with remembering details, encouragement, and so on.
Another the way to represent Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development is the following graph:
Vygotsky's ZPD implies that learners should be put into situations where they have to reach to understand, nonetheless support from peers or from the teacher should also be available. The task of the teacher would go beyond a mere activity of arranging the environment so that students can discover on their own.
Vygotsky's theory was an attempt to explain consciousness as the end product of socialization. For example, in the learning of language, our first utterances with peers or adults are for the purpose of communication but once mastered they become internalized and allow "inner speech".
This is a Quicktime video discussing the significance of Vygotsky's theory
Vygotsky, L.S. (1927). The Historical Meaning of the Crisis
in Psychology: A Methodological Investigation http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/crisis/
Vygotsky, L.S. (1962). Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/words/
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Min d in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.