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Constructivism: A Universal, and Actionable Learning Practice

The concept of constructivism was first introduced by Jean Piaget, and this concept gained traction in the 1960’s and emerged as a sub-discipline in psychology for development. Piaget conceptualised that human beings learn through interaction of experiences and ideas among human beings.

Through this, humans also create and acquire knowledge. The view of his constructivism is that students in comparison to adults are subordinate thinkers, but not inferior to them cognitively but may differ in cognitive stages. His research posits that cognitive development has processes of accommodation and assimilation. The process of accommodation is the mental representation of the world view and how it can be reframed using new experiences. Whereas assimilation is how an individual acquires the social and psychological group characteristics. These are crucial in the interactive process of experience and ideas purely focusing on how the learning happens rather than what influenced learning. Piaget the foundational psychologist concentrated on the radical part of constructivism.

The social aspects of constructivism were explored by Lev Vygotsky, wherein it was explained that learning happens the best through social interaction, work environment and interaction, created shared meaning with peers, by immersing in the new environment, and adapting for social acceptance through subjective interpretations. This idea arose from the premise that every infant has the abilities that are basic for cognitive development, and that it further enhances though social interaction and develops into mental processes that are sophisticated. Basic examples are the ability to memorize, remembering to adapt and how methods are adapted to improve memory. Vygotsky found that learning can be at a higher level through a more knowledgeable instructor, wherein the instructor can enhance and improve the learning process. Vygotsky opined that the most sensitive guidance area is the ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) as explained in the figure below. This ZPD bestrides the existing foundation of knowledge of the student and the injection of a new concept or new knowledge, that which cannot be disseminated without the help of an instructor. John Dewey bestrode the perspectives of Piaget and Vygotsky, that overlapped both their concepts. Needless to say, that all the three psychologists of constructivism drew a common ground for new learning based on the existing foundation of knowledge that the learning theories of humanism and behaviorism at their time could not completely represent the real learning process or rather focused more on classroom learning than experiential learning.
Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory
These theories play a phenomenal role in the contributions of learning theories and research. The pieces of Vygotsky’s theory on social development throws light on the realm of ‘can do’, ‘can do with help’ and cannot do. That being so, the zone of proximal development is in the ‘can do’ and ‘can do with help’ premise, and thus it is not restricted or limited to a learner and the teacher/instructor. This zone of proximal development is for individual and team learning, wherein the team learning helps the differently competitive children or individuals to observe and learn the mastery of skilled people in the group or team. The commonalities of these theories also explored cultural diversities and the deeper meaning of higher thoughts. At the same time the mathematical reasoning and logical reasoning were also focused by Piaget and was not supporting memorization that is rote or lecturing that is repetitive. Dewey claimed that learner engagement through the world view and real, factual activities are enablers of creativity, collaboration, sustained inquiry of studying and moreover pondering for alternative possibilities and arriving at one’s belief that is grounded in evidence (Behling & Hart, 2008; Reece, 2013, p320).

What sustains learning is inquiry and often it is sparkled by curiosity, which Dewey rightly insisted through his research that learning should be connected to real life experiences, and thus the understanding of constructivism is important as to what does it constitute to the learner in connecting their individual experiences to construct new knowledge. The learning process for the learner is the expectation of what information was being taught and how the interpretation is constructed on the basis of past experiences, individual and personal views, along with the individual’s cultural background. This interpretation is often followed by the reflection on new knowledge which is the innate constructivism behaviour. This can also impart a holistic development of the individuals or participants through education or through training or skill development.

What is the role of the teacher?
The role of the Teacher is to move away from the traditional style of lecturing to an experiential or hands-on approach, that is inclusive of every individual’s capacity of thinking and learning so as to encourage and engage a constructive challenge. Needless to say, the teacher is no more the sage on the stage but a guide on the side or a facilitator who aids the learner to understand the concept rather than an explained principle. Thus, the emphasis is on the learner and not the content nor the teacher (Gamoran, Secada & Marrett, 1998). This paradigm shift from emphatic teaching to an active teaching process, makes the instructor or the teacher to act differently (Brownstein, 2001). Rhodes and Bellamy (1999) noted that, while a teacher tells, a facilitator asks; while a teacher lectures, a facilitator supports; teacher follows a set pattern, while a facilitator provides the guidelines and creates the learning environment and while a teacher resorts to monologues, a facilitator engages with the learners in continuous dialogues.

The Bloom’s Taxonomy starts the learning process as remembering and understanding, which enhance the skill of the learner to memorize and recall the information. This is the necessity since without this, the application of learning by the learner would be difficult. Nevertheless, Piaget and Vygotsky believed that the abilities that are innate shall act as the initial building blocks or foundation of learning. Similarly, when group activities are going on, there is a fair chance that the learners fall into the group thinking (Ruggie, 1998), which could be a limitation, as the dominant group narrative gets the prominence. This criticism may be further explored to delimit and to absorb constructivism as an innate nature of abstract applied learning. The rote exams limit this attribute. Effective usage of time is also a limitation.

While constructivism reinforces that knowledge is to be imbibed through action, reflection and construction, the interaction of ideas, experience sharing, peer learning, culture and environment also helps to construct new knowledge and the assimilation of knowledge through inquiry and integration of the world view and social concerns. The teachers have to be facilitators, while the emphasis is on the learners, not the content, the learners have to acquire knowledge and also urge the teacher to be a facilitator, to reach higher levels of learning and knowledge acquisition. Though there are limiting factors, proper implementation of constructivism under an able constructivist leader shall reap benefits. This concept is applicable to all levels of education, and also for adult learning.