Kim Trefz

7074 Theories of Models of Instructional Design

September 28th, 2014

Assignment: Constructivist Theory Project (link to the actual document)


Constructivist theory is the belief that learning is an active process where people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through authentic learning experiences.  It is a meta concept where knowledge is built upon previous learning and ongoing reflection and impacts the learning process.  It represents a collection of theories including generative learning, discovery learning, and situated learning (Ertmer & Newby, 2013).

In problem solving, perceptual or conceptual similarities between existing knowledge and a new problem can help learners realize what they already know.  According to Cooperstein, S. & Kocevar-Weidinger, any information that does not connect with a learner's prior experiences will be quickly forgotten; the learner must actively construct new information into the existing mental framework for meaningful learning to occur (2004). This learning-through-discovery approach is an important component of a constructivist views that encourages students to learn through active involvement and conduct experiments that allow them to discover principles for themselves; the student is a “self-regulated learner” who has knowledge of learning strategies and applies them to solve problems.  (Slaven, 2010).  When new knowledge is introduced that is not consistent with already known knowledge new learning must occur; reflection is used to construct or transform the learner's representation to reality.

An important part of a constructivist-oriented learning environment should be the negotiation of meaning based on what the learners know and what they inquire to learn. The constructivist theory supports a thinking process of going deeper into big ideas, rather than presenting a wide range of basic content. As students formulate questions, they derive new and more complex questions to be investigated. The theory places the teacher as the facilitator who plans and guides the learner who is accountable for his own learning.  The learners are at the center of the learning process in gathering and selecting information, converting it to formulate a hypothesis, testing their ideas, interacting in a collaborative situation with a diverse group, and drawing conclusions based on findings.  

 Characteristics of the constructivist theory (Slaven, R. E. 2010):





Ideas of the constructivist theory come from cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and anthropology. It dates back to Socrates when he asked questions that led his students to realize for themselves the weaknesses in their thinking. This Socratic dialogue is still an important tool for constructivist educators today. In the early 1900s, John Piaget and John Dewey developed theories of childhood development and education;  Piaget believed that humans learn through the construction of one logical structure after another and that the logic of children and their modes of thinking are completely different from adults. These implications have formed the foundation for the constructivist theory and how its applied in education (Mills, Bonner, Francis, 2006).


Dewey called for education to be grounded in real experience. He wrote, "If you have doubts about how learning happens, engage in sustained inquiry: study, ponder, consider alternative possibilities and arrive at your belief grounded in evidence” (Thirteen, Ed online). Inquiry is an important part of constructivist learning.

There were two emerging components of this theory:  social constructivism and cognitive constructivism. Even though they are different theories, they fall within the same basic assumption about children's learning and that is that the child's individual development is at the center of instruction (Cooperstein, S. & Kocevar-Weidinger, 2004)

Following the lead of Piaget and Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, and David Ausubel added new research and perspectives to the constructivist learning theory.  Vygotsky brought social aspects of learning into constructivism as he defined the zone of proximal learning (ZPD) where students solve problems beyond their developmental level with the guidance from a mentor.  Bruner brought about a change in curriculum when he shared his belief that learning is an active, social process in which students construct new ideas or concepts based on their current knowledge and the discovery of new principles. Ausubel believed the best learning experience is when the teacher structures the learning situation, selects materials that are appropriate for students, and then presents them in well-organized lessons that progress from generic to specific details.

Seymour Papert studied under Piaget and provided new research using information technology to educate children in constructivist environments. Modern educators who have studied, written about, and practiced constructivist approaches to education include John D. Bransford , Ernst von Glasersfeld, and Roger Schank (Thirteen Ed online, 2004).

Key Persons:

John Dewey (1859-1952), an American philosopher and educator, was regarded as the foremost educator of his day. According to his beliefs, the purpose of education should not revolve around the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one's full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good (Thirteen Ed Online, 2004).

Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss-born professor is known for his extensive research on developmental psychology.  According to Ozer (2004), Piaget explained how the mind organizes information in schemes, assimilates new knowledge into schemes and accommodates the transforming of existing schemes or the creation of new ones. He believed that constructivist education is based on discovery and that an ideal learning environment allows learners to construct meaningful knowledge.

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1924) was born in Russia and known for his theory of social constructivism where he examined the relationship between the cognitive process and social activities.  For learning to occur, the social environment and culture play a part in constructing new ideas. Vygotsky applied the zone of proximal development in showing how learning is improved through social interaction with the guidance of a mentor; as a result, learners can comprehend concepts and schemes that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish on their own (Ozer, 2004).  

Jerome Bruner (1915- ) is a native of New York City and is known as one of the founding fathers of the constructivist theory. According to, His theoretical framework is based on learners constructing new ideas based on existing knowledge through an active process which includes selection and transformation of information, decision making, generating hypotheses, and using this to make meaning through experiences.  Bruner identifies four significant aspects of effective teaching and learning: (1) attitude towards learning, (2) knowledge presented in a way that accommodates the student's learning ability, (3) material presented in effective sequences, and (4) carefully considered and paced rewards and punishments (Ozer, 2004).

David Ausubel, an educational psychologist, was influenced by the work of Piaget. He has examined the relationship between the learner’s cognitive structure and the process of meaningful learning. Ausubel states that learning takes place through an interaction between new materials and relevant prior knowledge that is part of a learners schema. Interestingly, Ausubel is an advocate of direct instruction methods, as opposed to the constructivist educational theorists who believe that these methods “encourage passive learning through rote memorization.” Ausubel believes in academic mastery of the subject matter, where most constructivists believe in discovery and experience-based learning (Thirteen Ed online, 2004).

Seymour Papert (1928- ) was a South African native and leading expert on integrating computer technology within a constructivist environment.  He created the LOGO programming language to teach mathematics to elementary school children which earned him the name of “father of educational computing.” Papert studied the work of Piaget and applied it to his ideas of “a desire not to revise, but to invert the world of curriculum-driven instruction.” He believed that children develop intellectually without being taught by planning that is implemented by teachers. Professor Papert holds the Lego Chair for Learning Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and is co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence and Media Laboratories. He also currently chairs the Advisory Board of MaMaMedia Inc., an award-winning Internet destination for kids (Thirteen Ed online, 2004).

John D. Bransford’s research has moved the idea of constructivism from theory into practice with the development of anchored instruction. A central tenet of Bransford’s constructivism is that learning builds on prior knowledge.  Bransford realized that students needed a strong prior knowledge base to solve complex problems.  As a result, Bransford composed anchored instruction that helps the learner gain a strong sense of  the context, constraints, quantities, and the goal of the problem that is most likely to transfer to real-world situations (Thirteen Ed online, 2004).

Ernst von Glasersfeld (1917-2010) developed a model of radical constructivism, which claims that since all experiences are subjective, knowledge -- and the interpretation of that knowledge -- is also subjective, and thus constructed by the individual which is an active experience, not what "actually" occurs.  He believes that learning depends on the motivation and potential of the learner (Thirteen Ed online, 2004).

Roger Schank is a leading researcher in the field of artificial intelligence and multimedia-based interactive training. His beliefs are that children learn by doing versus learning by memorization and testing. Goal-based learning creates motivation for learning in a real-world context and dismisses the need for studying (Thirteen Ed online, 2004).



Constructivist theory is considered to be a branch of cognitivism where learning comes from the mind as it develops a unique, individual understanding based on the real-world learning experience.  It is different from traditional cognitive theories where the belief is that the mind serves as a reference tool. Constructivists, unlike cognitivists and behaviorists, do not believe that we acquire meaning and understanding that can be “mapped” onto a learner or that environmental factors have the greatest impact on learning. Instead, the views show that learning derives from our personal experiences and interactions, and knowledge is open to change according to the context in which it occurs.  Therefore, constructivists believe that it is critical for learning for the content to be delivered in realistic settings and that the tasks are relevant to the lives of the learner ( Ertmer, P & Newby, T., 2013).  The constructivist theory has the belief that the goal of learning derives from interpretation of information which is accumulated from learning experiences, not facts from rote memory; experiences aren’t stored as a single piece of knowledge and retrieved like “knowledge structures” as cognitivist believe.  Instead, knowledge comes from diverse sources of knowledge rather than schemas. Constructivists views show that meaningful and lasting learning comes from practice, knowledge, and the authentic context in which it is learned.

 “The goal of constructivists is to accurately portray tasks, not to define the structure of learning required to achieve a task” (Ertmer, P. & Newby T., 2013).  It is believed that knowledge transfer can’t occur if one has to follow certain rules which is the opposite of behaviorists who believe learning occurs with repetition of doing the same thing, again and again, with practice and reinforcement. Constructivists believe that learning occurs when the experience is meaningful and engaging where tools are used to promote thinking and learning. Knowledge therefore is not abstract but is part of the experience that the learner brings to the context of the learning. Learners construct their own understanding and validate them through cooperative learning where they gain new perspectives. This is in contrast to the cognitivist theory where focus of content remains on the conceptualization of students’ learning through how information is received, organized, stored, and retrieved by the mind. Behaviorists places emphasis on mastering foundational content before moving on to more complex levels of performance.

Constructivists and cognitivists view the learner as an active participant in the learning process, but constructivists believe that meaning is created by the learner based on how the information is interpreted.  This construction of knowledge comes from ongoing collaboration with others sharing their different perspectives through discussion. Ongoing formative assessment allows the learner to expand their knowledge for interpreting any situation (Ertmer, P & Newby, T. 2013).


Brooks, M. & Brooks, J. (1999). “The courage to be constructivist.” Educational  leadership,  

     vol 57, number 3. Retrieved on September 20, 2014 from


This article shares the research of the constructivist theory and the importance it plays for constructing meaning, its importance on education reform and the effects of high-stakes accountability.

Cooperstein, S. & Kocevar-Weidinger, E. (2004). "Beyond active learning: a constructivist  

     approach to learning", Reference Services Review, Vol. 32 Iss:  2, pp.141 - 148. Retrieved  

     on September 21, 2014 from


This article is important for the application of the constructivist theory of active learning in the classroom. It shares how students draw meaning, transfer the knowledge for understanding, and retain the content because of the performance of a concrete activity.

Ertmer, P & Newby, T. (2013). “Behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism: comparing  

     critical features from an instructional design perspective.” Retrieved on september

     20, 2014.  PDF

This article shares the constructivist definition for learning, its historical foundation, how it compares to the behaviorist and cognitivist theories and the relevance of instructional design for the constructivist theory.  

Mills, J. Bonner, A., Francis, K. (2006). “The development of constructivist grounded theory.”

     International journal of qualitative Methods, vol 5, no. 1. Retrieved on September 18, 2014  


This article focus on the importance of constructivist views and inquiry in regards to the learning process as well as the effects of the methodological approach to the spiral of content.

Moallem, M. (2001). “Applying constructivist and objectivist learning theories in    

     the design of a web-based course: implications for practice.” Retrieved on    

     September 20, 2014 from

This article is important for the constructivist approach for developing web-based instruction.  It provides detail about the theoretical framework as it explains the application of the theory as well as the learning outcomes.

Ozer, O. (2004). “Constructivism in Piaget and Vygotsky.” The fountain, issue 48. Retrieved

     on September 22, 2014 from  


This article provides important background information for the theorist who provided extensive research for the cognitivist theory.

Slaven, R. E. (2010). Educational psychology: theory and practice. Pearson Education.

     Retrieved on September 21, 2014 from


This article contains important aspects of the constructivist theory and how it’s applied to the classroom.

Thanasoulas, D. (2001). “Constructivist learning.” The weekly column. Retrieved on  

      September 21, 2014 from

This article provides an in-depth overview of what constructivist learning is that is supported by various theorists who believe that knowledge is constructed by the learner.

“Theoretical reflections: constructivist foundations for academic advising” (2012).    

     Academic advising today. Retrieved on September 19, 2014 from http://


This article provides a thorough overview of the constructivist philosophy and its application to educational practices.

Vermunt, J. (1998). “The regulation of constructive learning processes.” Educational

     psychology, vol 68, issue 2. Retrieved on September 20, 2014 from http://onlinelibrary

This article addresses the importance of constructive processing strategies and models for self-regulation of learning instead of external regulations.

Web Resources:

NDT: Resource Center (2012). Teaching with the constructivist theory. Retrieved

     on September 15, 2014.


The best methods for teaching and learning are provided on this site; additionally, suggestions for teaching the constructivist theory are provided.

Bruner’s Cognitivist Theory (2012). Retrieved on September 15, 2014.

This YouTube video provides an extensive overview of Bruner’s cognitive theory and how it enhances student’s understanding through discovery learning as they build upon the knowledge they have.

Constructivist Theories (2008). Retrieved on September 15, 2014.


This web resource provides learning aspects from theory to practice as well as constructivist learning strategies and the use of instructional technology.

Constructivist Teaching and Learning (2014). Retrieved on September 15, 2014.


This site provides summary of a Master's thesis by Audrey Gray, University of Saskatchewan with links to different categories:  introduction, teaching and learning, and professional development

Thirteen ed online (2004). Concept to Classroom. Retrieved on September 20, 2014 from

This site provides a very detailed explanation of how constructivists theories are implemented in the classroom.

TeAch-nology (2012). Classroom application of constructivism. The art and science of  

      teaching with technology.  Retrieved on September 20, 2014 from http://www.teach

This site provides information for applying constructivist theories in math and other subject areas.  Teaching strategies are provides as well as practice implications.

Therton, J S (2013) Learning and teaching; Constructivism in learning [On-line:    

     UK] retrieved 20 September 2014 from


A site-map gives an overview of constructivism and how it can be applied to education.  Additionally, learning styles are provided as well as misconceptions of the theory.

Rice, K (2009). Theories of educational technology. Edtech. Retrieved on    

     September 19, 2014 from



This site focuses on how constructivist theories relate to the philosophy of education through reflection and collective contributions to a class timeline, wiki resource collection and class glossary.