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Bruce Younger EDTECH 504-4173/4174

February 24, 2013

Learning Theory - Constructivism I want to discuss the educational theory known as Constructivism. Constructivism, which is an Empiricist philosophy, is based on three assumptions. First, knowledge is constructed from experience. Second, learning is the result of personal interpretation. The third assumption is that learning is an active process in which meaning (understanding) is developed on the basis of personal experience (Smith & Ragan, 2005). I think many would agree (including philosophers such as John Locke who practiced constructivisms parent empiricism) that without experience knowledge is less functional. Both theories operate on the premise that knowledge is gained through experience; however, in the case of empiricism and according to Locke humans start out life as a blank slate and have no experience to be able to associate or apply meaning. I believe that where constructivism and empiricism part ways is where constructivists according to previously cited authors Smith & Ragan hold that knowledge is a unique combination of new knowledge and a learners individual prior knowledge which includes values, experiences and beliefs. In this paper I will rely on the works of Peter Rich, The current state of Instructional Technology, who studied social constructivism and discusses L.C. Vygotsky and his work on Zone of Proximal Development. Additionally, I will reference D.C. Philips and his Philosophy of Education, Ertmer & Newbys Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective, as well as Smith & Ragens Instructional Design third edition. I had always struggled with the thought that if someone doesnt have a high IQ then it means that this person is not the smartest individual in the test group, and that may be the truth, but can person x with the sky-rocketing IQ score apply what he or she has learned? Most likely not, as I have come to discover, what a high IQ score actually means is that the person has what is referred to as Single Factor aptitude (Smith & Ragan, 2005). Let me explain. Have you ever witnessed someone who is extremely well educated, only to discover they have no other skills? In the forefront are things like social skills (interpersonal), common sense, mechanical ability, etc. These are skills that you will find with a person who possesses Multiple Factor aptitude which cannot be calculated by an IQ test. So lets talk Constructivism. I have spent several years working with individuals who work in the construction trades (no relation to Constructivism), and these individuals appear to have

Bruce Younger EDTECH 504-4173/4174

February 24, 2013

a very well developed intelligence; however, many lack school training (Smith & Ragan, 2005), which is the primary measure of IQ. However what many of them do have is knowledge; knowledge that was gained through experience and new learning. If you were teaching a communication course for secondary students, you may be able to apply a constructivism metaphor. The example would be illustrating the difference between two often misused words. In this example we would consider the two terms empathetic and sympathetic. Most students would immediately disseminate that one is based on personal experience and the other learning without experience, but which is which? The following would be a working example. Explain the difference between Sympathetic and Empathetic: In order for one to be sympathetic to another persons situation one must first have that personal experience. (e.g. If a friend calls you to explain that while their family was gone on vacation one of the hoses on their washing machine had burst and the entire house was flooded, basement and all). These friends went on to explain that they and their parents needed a place to stay for a couple of nights. Upon hearing this you might have one of two reactions, one such reaction might be sympathy. Because you have had a similar experience you would encourage them to gather the belongings they would need and to hurry over as soon as they could. This sympathetic reaction would be from the experience you had when the roof on your familys home collapsed in the middle of a torrential down pour which flooded your home, and your family had to relocate. If you had not had this experience you could only empathize with your friends plight. I believe this example is much like the learning function of constructivism and can be very effective in the classroom. We learn because the information being delivered closely matches, or can be associated with, experiences we have had. Using the classroom example, empathy on the other hand is more like the IQ test. A person has gained knowledge of a subject, but because a person lacks the personal experience they are most often unable to assign meaning to that knowledge, thus making it more or less impotent. With a multiple factor aptitude, the constructivist theory will become a very functional learning theory. In other words you can apply meaning to a particular piece of information that you have gathered, therefore constructing a working knowledge of a given topic because you possessed experience prior to receiving the new learning.

Bruce Younger EDTECH 504-4173/4174

February 24, 2013

The former topic now brings me back to the IQ test. An IQ test will only test your knowledge that you have gained from educational sources, reading, lecture or media. This way of gaining knowledge would be, in essence, sympathetic learning. Constructivism, as Peggy A. Ertmer states it, is this, knowledge is a function of how the individual creates meaning from his or her own experiences (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). IQ is a great measure of ones ability to gather and memorize information but it does not lend itself well to application or dissemination of true knowledge. To quote a maxim from D.C. Philips in his essay Philosophy of Education, the best education for the best is the best education for all (Philips, 2009). While I dont completely agree with his use of the quote in the context that it is applied, I can say that in my limited experience, constructivism makes the most sense and produces the greatest good for the greatest variety of learners. I say that because if you can base an instructional design around a student and his or her experiences, you greatly increase your ability to make that student successful. Not all students have either the same interests or capabilities. According to Philips who asks the question, should every student pursue the same curriculum (Philips, 2009)? In regard to Constructivism, the answer has to be no. As I eluded before, I feel like the current paradigm for education is utilitarianism, which is to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. I think that philosophy is great when you are constructing a public area or creating some sort of public service that can be cookie cutter if you will, but education from the Constructivist view is not a production line process nor is it a shopping mall. If you can pair utilitarianism with constructivism then you may find success. After all, education is a social endeavor as Peter Rich discusses when talking about Vygotskys Zone of Proximal Development. He writes, This is a zone in which the learner is extended beyond her own capabilities, but can reach the desired end through the aid of a more knowledgeable other (Rich, 2007). His discussion was regarding social interaction which is the primary component of social constructivism. Vygotskys point was centered on the need to place students into a program that is designed for the student and with proper leadership that student can reach their goals or even surpass them. In a one size fits all education system how can you say that you are providing the best education? With constructivism and learner centered theories, the best and the brightest that our government continues to insist are outside our boarders, may very well be found right here at home.

Bruce Younger EDTECH 504-4173/4174

February 24, 2013

Bibliography
Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly 6(4), 50-71. Philips, D. (2009). Philosophy of education. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Rich, P. J. (2007). The current state of Instructional Technology. The foundations of instructional technology, 22-27. Smith, P. L., & Ragan, T. J. (2005). Instructional Design third edition. Norman: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.