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Adult Education – PIDP 3100

Essay for PIDP 3100 – Constructivist Theory


Constructivist pedagogy emphasizes knowledge gained through guided experience where the

learner builds complex and interrelated understandings. The learning process begins with an

observation based on individual perspective or understanding. An example of a constructivist

learning process outside of the education system is the recent BCTF strike and the diverse

public opinion. People drew conclusions based on their beliefs regarding the labour unrest

between the government and the BC teachers. Diverse assumptions were made and although

considered equally meaningful in constructivist theory they were not equally valid. The strike

was defined by polar opposite opinion and was guided by propaganda from both sides; local

news reporting and the environment in which each individual found themselves. Is this

knowledge? Not necessarily valid knowledge, but it is certainly constructed understanding and

does fit within Adrienne Kezar’s (2006) reference of constructive knowledge being built on

relationships, history and interdependencies as well as indigenous theory that references the

four R’s – relationship, relevance, responsibility, and respect (Pidgeon, 2008-2009). Although

one could say that respect was missing from both sides of this equation.

In the constructivist classroom the instructor does not “stand and deliver” content, but is

more of a facilitator who supports the creation of an environment where students interpret their

understanding through their different world views, schemes, and structures (Brooks, 1993).

The student takes full responsibility for his/her learning in a student centered environment

where the affective and cognitive domains flow together and construct meaning from that

experience (Brandes, 2001).

In the next few pages this report will study constructivist theory and introduce

researchers who have been central to its ongoing epistemology and authentication. The report


will share this author’s reflection on the choice of theory and discuss what the role of the

learner situated in this theory looks. The author will look at the role of the instructor within the

classroom and review three examples of activities and instructional strategies that will work

well in the constructivist classroom. Finally the report will summarize the key points related to

constructivist theory, the role of the instructor and the role of the student.

Constructivism – Key Points

The use of a constructivist foundation in the classroom is critical as we seek to

understand why the world is the way it is and how we would like it to be. A constructivist

classroom helps us to analyze relationships (inside and outside the classroom) using values and

beliefs as a necessary part of the learning. Constructivism forces us to look for the network of

connections that give meaning to the concepts, beliefs, and values held (Ewert, 1991). Using

constructivist learning strategies, our language and dialogue furthers the mutual understanding

of individual interests and needs, coordinates actions to satisfy those needs, and recognize false

assumptions (Crotty, 1998). One of the objectives of constructivist theory is to empower the

students to become agents of change and transformation (Mezirow & Associates, 2000).

Learning Reconsidered defines learning “as a comprehensive, holistic, transformative activity

that integrates learning and student development processes” (ACPA, 2004, p. 4). Learning

today is a complex integrated process . Opportunities are provided for students to learn through

action, contemplation, reflection and emotional engagement as well as information acquisition

(ACPA, 2004). These opportunities are made possible through field trips, case studies, service

learning and problem-based learning.

Limitations of constructivist strategies can arise when instructors fail to recognize the

potential for distortion as described above in the example of the BCTF strike. Students may not


have the same assumption about knowledge and although equally meaningful are not equally

valid. There may also be limitations with the context for interpretation. What sort of

knowledge is provided in order to provide insight? Is the framework based on good

knowledge? And do the interpretations make sense? The facilitator’s role is key to validating

the context within which the learning takes place.

Why I Chose This Theory

Research would define me as one of those students who left higher education for any

one of a multitude of reasons (Astin, 1993) and I can affirm the very real possibility of my

educational journey ending after two years as an undergraduate. My own interest in

humanistic and constructivist teaching methodologies is motivated by my initial post-secondary

experiences as an unengaged undergraduate to my experience as fully engaged graduate

student. What was the difference between my undergraduate and postgraduate experiences?

What optimal learning experience inspired me during my post graduate education, and

continues to inspire me today?

I believe my postgraduate studies valued my values/beliefs and experience all the while

supporting the synergy and interconnectedness of my learning within a community of learners.

The curriculum was sensitive to my reality – inside and outside the classroom and was truly a

transformational time in my life.

Role of Learner Situated in This Theory

Student centered learning may initially be frustrating to the learner since students are

historically passive learners expecting the instructor to deliver knowledge. Students in a

student centered environment assume added responsibility and become actively engaged as

they search for meaning, collaborate with fellow students, and reflect on the knowledge as it


applies to their collective understanding. Students see themselves as equal partners in the

learning process where all participants are appreciated and validated

Role of the Instructor


The instructor in a constructivist classroom prompts and facilitates discussion and

guides students to developing their own conclusions based on examples that apply to real world

situations. The instructor clearly defines what the learning objectives for the course are and

clarifies course details that may include assessment, late assignments, quality of work or the

among of work required. However there is always room for discussion when defining how the

objectives will be obtained, how assessments will be applied and what the methods of learning

will be.


Activities and Classroom Strategies

Learning activities for the constructivist classroom can include experimentation,

research projects, case studies, class discussions and student facilitation. Key to these

strategies is the empowerment of the students to be engaged in the learning process.

Case Study

Case studies provide students the opportunity to engage in the real world scenarios and

become empowered to engage in their own learning as they work to create solutions. The case

can be as simple as asking what would they do in a specific situation to a detailed account of a

situation that includes the context of the problem and supporting data. The case study has the

ability to expand student understanding and improve student practice but requires the

instructor to show due diligence in the framework development and data analysis to prevent

an oversimplification or exaggeration of a situation that can lead to misguided

conclusions(Merriam, 1998)

Constructivist Theory


The main objectives attached to case study exploration include the development of

problem solving skills, analytical skills, learning how to make decisions in complex situations

and learning how to work within an environment where there are conflicting beliefs. Dividing

students into groups and providing them with the same real story provides opportunities for

further student development as they share their solutions with the entire class.

Problem Based Learning


Problem based curriculum allows for student choice within areas of study. PBL uses

problems and issues to enhance the student centered learning as students collaborate and

develop flexible understandings of the problems and solutions. The five “Y”s is an exercise

that helps students get to the root of the problems/issues they are dealing with. The class

begins with asking why and brainstorms a number of “why”s. Collaboratively they agree on

the best “why” and repeat this process five times… At the end of the exercise the students

should have the root cause of the problem they are dealing with.

Service Learning

Service learning is designed to meet community needs, complement the curriculum and

meet the interests of students. Instructors in partnership with community agencies and students

design service projects that meet community identified needs, advance student’s understanding

of specific course content and promote civic engagement.

Service-learning practitioners and researchers agree that the most effective servicelearning

experiences are those that provide structured opportunities for learners to critically

reflect upon their service experience (Eyler, 1999). Critical reflective components built into the

course help students consider the relationships between their service, the course curriculum,

current societal issues, and their professional goals.

Classroom Management Strategies

The environment is respectful, inclusive, flexible, and is one that constantly

incorporates the student’s interests. The classroom encourages cooperative learning and

promotes students working together in order to enhance the learning experience for all.

Whether the students are writing journals, doing research or developing a presentation there is

always an expectation for peer feedback and review.



Every student comes with a learning past that is an important part of his or her present and

future learning. Using a constructivist approach to education, students are encouraged to be critical thinkers, become involved in the learning process and learn how to apply knowledge to new situations. Learning becomes an active process that involves the student’s direct experiences and world views. Using real world settings, student centered learning empowers students to explore the complexities of finding real world solutions. This approach requires critical consideration of multiple perspectives which may at times conflict. This conflict shows students that they can support someone even if they do not agree completely.

A huge learning curve in the constructivist classroom is when Instructors become comfortable giving up the power in the classroom and students willingly take on responsibility for their own learning. Instructors are facilitators and provide resources ; students are active participants. A constructivist classroom has the opportunity to transform what learners know and transform how they know.



ACPA. (2004). Learning Reconsidered. In R. P. Keeling (Ed.), A campus-wide focus on the Student Experience. Washington, D.C.: ACPA, NASPA.

Astin, A. (1993). What Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brandes, D., Ginnis, P. (2001). A Guide to Student Centred Learning (4th ed.). Cheltenham United Kingdom: Althenaeum Press.

Brooks, J., Brooks,M. (1993). In Search of Understanding the Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Journal of College Student Retention, Theory and Practice(10(3)), 339-360.

Crotty, M. (1998). The Foundations of Social Research – meaning and perspective in the research process (Vol. 1). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

Ewert, G. (1991). H






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