Constructivism: A Path to Effective Learning and Engagement

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Professional Development

In this bite-sized tutorial we’re going to dive into constructivist learning theory, what it is, and how trainers and assessors can implement this theory to not only help learners learn but also become highly effective and engaging trainers.

The theory of constructivism is based on the belief that a person’s knowledge is constructed through interaction with others, their environment, their previous knowledge and their own individual experiences. 

Constructivism suggests that each learner makes sense of, and interprets new information based on their existing knowledge, and therefore each individual’s knowledge is unique.

There are three commonly accepted variants of Constructivist Theory which include: 

  1. “Cognitive Constructivism” was introduced by psychologists including Jean Piaget and William Perry.
  2. “Social Constructivism” was introduced by Lev Vygotsky. 
  3. “Radical Constructivism” was later introduced by Ernst von Glasersfeld. 

Constructivism Principles

Regardless of the variants, here are some of the more commonly accepted principles of the Constructivist Learning Theory as a whole:

Knowledge is Constructed

The construction of knowledge is where learners pick and choose pieces from the information and experiences they are exposed to and add them to their existing knowledge bank in a way that makes sense to them. Because each person’s existing knowledge and experiences are different, each learner will build their own knowledge in a way that is uniquely different from other learners, even if they are exposed to the same content.

Learning is Active

Constructivism suggests that learning is something that’s achieved through active engagement. Learners can't just sit around and expect knowledge to come to them, they need to actively participate in a variety of sensory activities to truly learn and understand.

Learning is Social

Social connections with teachers, family, peers, and others, directly influence a learner’s journey. Constructivist education acknowledges the importance of social interaction, discussions, and group activities and how they assist students in gaining and retaining knowledge.

Context Shapes Learning

Learning isn't about memorising facts in isolation, but rather it's intertwined within our lives. What people learn is closely connected to what they already know including their beliefs and the context of the environment where they live and work. A person’s surroundings play a huge part in shaping what they remember and store in long-term memory.

Constructivism in Practice

Because constructivism is all about individuals constructing their own knowledge based on their individual development levels and previous experiences, the role of the trainer is different from traditional teaching methods. In traditional teaching methods, all learners are presented with the same information, they are expected to remember it all, and then recall it even if they don’t understand it. 

The constructivist approach requires the trainer to work with learners individually, helping them to learn how to learn for themselves. This includes encouraging them to draw on their previous knowledge and to make associations with the new content they’re presented with.

In a constructivist learning environment, the teacher acts as a guide or mentor, working with individuals using a student-centred approach where open discussions and questions are actively encouraged.

Ultimately, the constructivist approach develops an intrinsic motivation to learn within each learner, allowing them to confidently construct their knowledge based on their own perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and existing knowledge.

This is the foundation for becoming a highly effective trainer; one whose students enjoy learning and are actively involved in their own knowledge growth and skills development.

What are your thoughts? We would love to know.

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