The One and the Many
Paul Ernest University of Exeter
Is constructivism one or many schools of thought? This is not as trivial a question as it sounds. If one, then perhaps almost everybody belongs, which does not tell us much. It leads to such outcomes as neobehaviorists claiming that we are all constructivists now. Neobehaviorists should not be dismissed too lightly because the models of cognition in the work of Ausubel, Gagné, and others are subtle and complex. Ausubel ( 1968) said long ago that "the most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this, and teach him accordingly" (p. i). Coupled with his work on meaningful versus discovery learning, this seems to place him close to some weak form of constructivism. But Lewin (chap. 23) has demonstrated that a lack of clarity in representing constructivism may allow its appropriation by the most authoritarian of pedagogies. One of the central tasks of this chapter is to clarify what is and what is not constructivism.
In contrast, if there are many types of constructivism, as I suggest elsewhere ( Ernest, 1991b), there is the risk of wasting time by worrying over the minutiae of differences. But accepting that the differences between various constructivist positions are significant, I am left on the horns of a dilemma. At one end, (almost) all is constructivism, especially if, as Rubin (chap. 19) says, constructivist epistemology is the only paradigm that survives. At the other extreme, there are almost as many varieties of constructivism as there are researchers.