You are here

Constructivist Teaching and Learning

15 December, 2015 - 13:04
Available under Creative Commons-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Download for free at

The third trend affecting staff development in education is likely the most significant and the one we need to address the most in our planning of staff development programs for technology. Constructivism presents the notion that learners (young and old) build knowledge structures in their minds rather than have the knowledge implanted by the teacher.

What is this thing called constructivism really? Constructivists view instruction less as a process in which knowledge is communicated to learners; and more a belief that knowledge is an active process of construction by the student. Jacqueline Grennon Brooks (1990) helps us understand the real meaning of constructivist teaching as she talks about reinventing the wheel:

Although constructivism as a guiding principle in education is receiving more attention today than in the past, much confusion persists over its message and its implications. Suppes (1989), a critic of what he calls the romanticism of this approach, asks, "What are you going to do, reinvent the wheel? (p. 909). The answer is "yes." In the ideal educational setting, students will reinvent the wheel, reinvent long division, rediscover horrors of war, and reinvent government. (p.71)

Constructivists believe students are active seekers and constructors of knowledge and students bring their own individual goals and curiosities to the classroom (Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Fosnot, 1989; Piaget, 1954). Thus, traditional teacher-centered instruction of predetermined plans, skills, and content is inappropriate (Brooks & Brooks, 1993, as cited in Nicaise & Barnes, 1996).

Another ingredient of constructivist teaching involves the opportunity of students to have social discourse and interaction. A discussion of constructivism would not be complete without the reference to Vygotsky (1978), the now-famous learning theorist who suggested that cognitive development depends on the student's social interaction with others, where language plays a central role in learning. So, focusing on these ideas, the teacher's responsibilities involve creating classroom environments where students think, explore, and construct meaning, while including opportunities for students to have social interaction.

So, What Does All This Have To Do With Technology Leadership and Effective Faculty Development Programs?

First of all, we have reason to suspect that many of our classrooms exist today still focusing on the more traditional practice of teachers disseminating knowledge with the expectation of students magically absorbing that knowledge and the ability to regurgitate back to us in some form of standardized test. Two questions must concern the principal as technology leader: (1) How prevalent are constructivist learning strategies in our classrooms presently? and (2) How can technology be used as a tool to support and encourage constructivist principles of learning?

We must visit the present dialogue in this regard. As constructivism has furthered our understanding of learning theory, many educators (including your author) believe computer technology can be used to continue and further enhance effective teaching and learning in today's classrooms. Others (Pepi & Scheurman, 1996) present a convincing argument stating "electronic technologies often are not used in ways consistent with constructivist principles of learning, and no reason exists to believe they will be in the near future" (p.231). Honestly, my experiences show support for the first part of their statement technologies are not often used in constructivist ways. The excitement and encouragement are however, that technologies have the potential for such support, and with appropriate instructional leadership by principals, technology can be an effective catalyst for educational reform.