The constructivism movement gained momentum in the 1990s and produced several instructional models that are still used today in higher education. Constructivism requires learning to be an active process that encourages students to use tasks like experiments or real-world problem-solving to create more knowledge and then to reflect on and talk about what they are doing and how their understanding is changing. Learning is interactive and builds on what students already know and on their experiences. Students are exposed to multiple perspectives and have numerous opportunities for collaboration and social interaction. Students are active participants in both the teaching and the learning. The student and instructor's role is flipped, with the students controlling the learning process and the instructor guiding and facilitating the learning and reflection process. Evaluation and feedback are continuous and embedded in the assignments, encouraging students to assess how they increase their understanding throughout the learning process.
There are several instructional models used today linked to constructivism.
1.Problem-based learning is student-centered, using complex, real-world problems for students to work in groups to solve. The problem drives the motivation and the learning.
2.Case-and scenario-based learning presents students with a real-world problem that they need to solve. The scenario or case promotes class discussion and team-problem solving.
3.Cognitive apprenticeship uses situational cognition similar to a master teaching a skill to an apprentice - learning by watching the expert and modeling the skill or task. This framework informs the design of authentic, replicable instruction.
4.Interactive learning environments in online learning provide students with built-in tools to be used to interact as they develop an argument based on evidence to solve a problem.
Instructors continue to use all four of these models in higher education. I use problem-based learning and case-based learning in the courses I teach to allow the students to develop the social skills needed to work in a team towards a common goal and develop higher-level thinking. Cognitive apprenticeship has been used successfully in high-level foreign language courses. The instructor speaks to the students only in the foreign language, immersing them in the language, so they learn the correct pronunciation, inflection, and tone. This course is an excellent example of an interactive learning environment.
Instructional design models continue to evolve, building on the models that came before. Many instructors have shifted from objectivism to constructivism teaching strategies to accommodate more meaningful, active learning and real-world engagement for their students.
Objectivism learning is structured and predetermined. The teacher controls the learning process, and realities are given based on the notion that reality is perceived the same by all learners. Instruction focuses on transferring knowledge to the learner in a methodical way. The instructional strategies are well-defined and selected based on the learning goals and objectives set by the instructor. Students are passive participants in the learning process. Assessment is conducted at the end of the instruction and based on attaining the goals and objectives.
Conversely, constructivism engages students in authentic activities that allow collaboration and students to engage multiple perspectives. This is more aligned with how students really learn. The student controls the learning process through complex, problem-based, and real-world tasks. Students actively engage in learning knowledge that has a real-world application outside of the classroom. Meaning comes out of practice and from discussion and reflection. Reality is negotiated based on students' experience and knowledge. The learner sets the goals. The instructor supports learners in setting their goals and encourages them to reflect on their learning. Students determine which ideas are viable by testing their personal understandings against their peers. Emotion, affect, and engagement are integrated into the learning activities. The focus is on higher-order outcomes, including problem-solving, decision making, and critical thinking. Evaluation is continuous and baked into the learning tasks.
While constructivism promotes more meaningful, authentic, and problem-based learning than objectivism, there are some concerns about when it should be used and how difficult it can be to implement in the classroom. Because students are taking over the instructors' role, students must be prepared for constructivism to be successful. Students must be motivated and emotionally mature enough to work independently. Students must have the necessary prior knowledge to handle complex, authentic, real-world problems. Students must have adequate access to the essential information. Students succeed when they have the support, help, information resources, and advice to help them through a complex task's initial performance. Constructivism requires more of this support than objectivism. If students have low-level outcomes, they may become disappointed and unmotivated.
Constructivism can create more work for the instructor. Field testing is required to ensure the instructional design is robust enough to support the students. The actual learning outcomes also need to be aligned with the standards and objectives. Instructors may not be receptive to switching roles with their students and learn new skills. A supportive infrastructure needs to be in place, including mentors, information resources, and training for instructors to transition their instruction to a constructivism-based instruction design model successfully.
Constructivism may not always be the best education solution from a practical standpoint. If the content is technical material that must be mastered or remembered with precision or if a mandated exam dictates the curriculum, constructivism may not be the best strategy.
A group of learning professionals launched the Serious e-Learning Manifesto in 2014 to respond to quality concerns about poorly designed e-learning products (Reiser & Dempsey, 2018). The manifesto lays out design principles and standards for e-learning products, contrasting e-learning and serious e-learning. The serious e-learning principles are consistent with a constructivist perspective and are much more student-centered and focused on meaningful, real-world active learning than traditional e-learning. These principles and standards are critical to addressing the challenges students and instructors faced when they pivoted to virtual learning due to the pandemic.
Several serious e-learning projects are examples of the continued influence of constructivism in higher education. These examples contrast traditional e-learning and promote student active-learning, interaction, engagement, and socialization.
Active learning classrooms facilitate constructivist learning activities. Space configuration promotes collaboration and cooperation between students. The instructor is at a station in the middle of the room. We use this design in our computer labs, where we teach our video production classes. The students are in five pods of four work-stations facing each other with a computer for each student. The instructor's podium is in the middle of the room. The instructor roams the room checking students' progress, asking questions, and assisting students. This configuration encourages the students to be more collaborative and work together to troubleshoot any issues or help each other with their projects.
According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, flipped classrooms were widely discussed and put in use before COVID-19. Students watch recorded lectures on their own before coming to campus for guided hands-on and group activities. The videos are asynchronous, and students watch them at their convenience. When students are in class, they can apply the video's knowledge to an active learning task. This configuration has been highly successful during the pandemic and could increase demand for flexible classrooms.
Makerspaces are physical locations with equipment that students can use to undertake do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. It's a space for students to come together using shared resources to exchange ideas. Our video editing labs are open 24/7 to students enrolled in our video production classes. Students have all the technology and equipment they need to edit videos for class assignments, student organization projects, or personal use. Collaboration and social interaction organically happen in this space. Students are curious about the other projects and are more than willing to exchange ideas and expertise.
These projects are just a few examples of how constructivism continues to take on new forms and evolve. Serious e-learning will continue to play a significant role in online learning
Diep, F. (20021, March 15). The pandemic may have permanently altered campuses: Here's
how. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-pandemic-may-have-permanently-altered-campuses-heres-how
Reiser, R.A. & Dempsey, J.V. (2018). Trends and issues in instructional design and technology
(4th ed.). Pearson.
I am a higher education administrator with over 15 years of experience in communications and operations. The views in my blog are my own.