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
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 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
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 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