Towards Realist Constructivism: Implications for Teaching & Training
Kumar, Alok, Indian Journal of Industrial Relations
What can people possibly know: an object as it is or their idea of the object? This question is central to the way people look at the world. If one can know a thing as it is, then the world must be real. Only a real world can have objects whose reality is inherent in them. Whoever knows a thing as it is must get the same knowledge about it. On the other hand, if people can only know the idea of a thing and not the thing as such, the world as they know must be an idea!
There are people who look at the world as their idea. They take all human knowledge as mental constructions. They are the 'Constructivists' and their position is called 'Constructivism'. This article attempts to enquire into the constructivist worldview and its implications for two important ways of human resource development viz. teaching and training. It takes a catechistical approach to explain the idea of constructivism to the general reader.
* It shows that knowledge construction is possible while assuming a knowable reality. Constructivism would be more useful if it accepts knowledge-reality correspondence. Such a position can justify constructivist teaching and training.
* It shows that in a knowable real world the need for generalization or abstraction strengthens the constructivist position. It dispels the widely prevalent notion of equating hands-on experiences with active learning.
* It positions constructivism as a comprehensive approach to look at training. Further, it outlines the lifecycle of a constructivist training.
Do People Construct Their Own Mind-worlds?
To do that they must be able to influence the way they know the reality. The world doesn't appear as colourful to dogs as to humans (Plonsky 1998). Human physiology has indeed enabled us to see the world differently. One can still argue that it is a case of setting limits by one reality viz. physiology over the other viz. colour. Probably a more appropriate question would be to ask whether the observers influence reality.
Consider a scenario where Mr. Reji awaits the train to Kerala. A train passes by in which he spots a child throwing a ball in the air and managing to catch it. Sitting snugly on her seat, the child did it again by the time the train covered around two meters. While the child knows that she has taken the catches sitting at the very same place, Mr. Reji knows them as separated by a distance of two meters. Whose knowledge is correct? Can someone answer this question without taking the frames of reference of the observers into account? One can still argue that this is the nature of physical reality as explained by the theory of relativity (Einstein 2000).
Can something uniquely human such as the points of view and culture influence the way people know the world? Consider the discovery of a new fossil. Must it mean a missing link between two related species? Can't it be taken as just another animal created by God? It depends on the interpreter. Materialists would explain it along evolutionary lines because they have closed themselves to God; creationists would see God's intelligence at work because only He can create life. These two explanations flow primarily from the inherent beliefs of the interpreters rather than the reality per se. As theories are by definition falsifiable (Popper 1963), a theory can never be proved once and for all. The dominant social paradigm ends up judging the validity of the competing explanations to declare one as knowledge and the other as opinion (Kuhn 1970). The effect of culture on the way people look at diverse phenomena is well researched (Clark 2002, Hofstede 2001, House et al. 2004). Indeed, uniquely human influences seem to affect the way we look at the world!
Much of the human knowledge results from the coherent systems of explanations. Now the known world as an idea appears to be a plausible proposition. Notice that such knowledge is the result of the questions posed. …