Constructivism : Way to New Learning

By Choudhry, Monika | International Journal of Education and Management Studies, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Constructivism : Way to New Learning


Choudhry, Monika, International Journal of Education and Management Studies


Constructivism is basically a theory-based on observation and scientific study about how people learn. It says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. When we encounter something new, we reconcile it with previous ideas, discard irrelevant information. In any case we are active creators of our knowledge. To do this, we must ask question, explore,, assess what we know.

Existing knowledge developed by experiences comes into contact with new information and knowledge is constructed. Rooted in cognitive psychology and biology it is an approach that lays emphasis an the ways knowledge is created in order to adopt to the world, von Glasersfeld describes constructivism as "a theory of knowledge with roots in philosophy, psychology and cybernetics." Discovery, hands-on, experimental, collaborative, project-based, task-based learning are a no of applications that base and learning on constructive.

Piaget described learning as interplay between two mental activities that he called assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is the interpretation of new information in terms of preexisting concepts, information or ideas. A preschool child who already understands the concept of bird, for example, might initially label any flying object with this term even butterflies or mosquitoes. Assimilation is therefore a lot like the idea of generalization in operant conditioning, as well as the idea of transfer that I described at the beginning of this chapter as an enduring concern of teachers. In Piaget's viewpoint, though, what is being transferred to a new setting is not simply a behavior, as in operant conditioning, but a mental representation for an object or experience.

Assimilation operates jointly with accommodation, which is the revision or modification of pre-existing concepts in terms of new information or experience. The preschooler who initially generalizes the concept of bird to include any flying object, for example, eventually revises the concept to include only particular kinds of flying objects, such as robins and sparrows, and not others, like mosquitoes or airplanes. For Piaget, assimilation and accommodation work together to enrich a child's thinking and to create what Piaget called cognitive equilibrium, which is a balance between reliance on prior information and openness to new information. At any given time, cognitive equilibrium consists of an ever-growing repertoire of mental representations for objects and experiences. Piaget called each mental representation a schema (all of them togetherthe pluralwas called schemata). A schema was not merely a concept, but an elaborated mixture of vocabulary, actions, and experience related to the concept. A child's schema for bird, for example, includes not only the relevant verbal knowledge (like knowing how to define the word "bird"), but also the child's experiences with birds, pictures of birds, and conversations about birds. As assimilation and accommodation about birds and other flying objects operate together over time, the child does not just revise and add to his vocabulary (such as acquiring a new word, "butterfly"), but also adds and remembers relevant new experiences and actions. From these collective revisions and additions the child gradually constructs whole new schemata about birds, butterflies, and other flying objects. In more everyday (but also less precise) terms, Piaget might then say that "the child has learned more about birds."

Jerome Bruner (1960, 1966, 1996), who became convinced that students could usually learn more than had been traditionally expected as long as they were given appropriate guidance and resources. He called such support instructional scaffoldingliterally meaning a temporary framework, like one used in constructing a building, that allows a much stronger structure to be built within it. In a comment that has been quoted widely (and sometimes disputed), he wrote, "We [constructivist educators] begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development". …

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