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Constructivist Learning

by Dimitrios Thanasoulas, Greece


Only by wrestling with the conditions of the problem at hand, seeking and finding his own solution
(not in isolation but in correspondence with the teacher and other pupils)
does one learn.
~ John Dewey, How We Think, 1910 ~
As a philosophy of learning, constructivism can be traced to the eighteenth century and
the work of the philosopher Giambattista Vico, who maintained that humans can
understand only what they have themselves constructed. A great many philosophers
and educationalists have worked with these ideas, but the first major contemporaries to
develop a clear idea of what constructivism consists in were Jean Piaget and John
Dewey, to name but a few. Part of the discussion that ensues grapples with the major
tenets of their philosophies, with a view to shedding light on constructivism and its
vital contribution to learning. As a revealing gloss on this issue, it could be said that
constructivism takes an interdisciplinary perspective, inasmuch as it draws upon a
diversity of psychological, sociological, philosophical, and critical educational theories.
In view of this, constructivism is an overarching theory that does not intend to demolish
but to reconstruct past and present teaching and learning theories, its concern lying in
shedding light on the learner as an important agent in the learning process, rather than
in wresting the power from the teacher.
Within the constructivist paradigm, the accent is on the learner rather than the teacher.
It is the learner who interacts with his or her environment and thus gains an
understanding of its features and characteristics. The learner constructs his own
conceptualisations and finds his own solutions to problems, mastering autonomy and
independence. According to constructivism, learning is the result of individual mental
construction, whereby the learner learns by dint of matching new against given
information and establishing meaningful connections, rather than by internalising mere
factoids to be regurgitated later on. In constructivist thinking, learning is inescapably
affected by the context and the beliefs and attitudes of the learner. Here, learners are
given more latitude in becoming effective problem solvers, identifying and evaluating
problems, as well as deciphering ways in which to transfer their learning to these
If a student is able to perform in a problem solving situation, a meaningful learning should then
occur because he has constructed an interpretation of how things work using preexisting structures.
This is the theory behind Constructivism. By creating a personal interpretation of external ideas and
experiences, constructivism allows students the ability to understand how ideas can relate to each
other and preexisting knowledge (Janet Drapikowski, personal communication).
The constructivist classroom presents the learner with opportunities for autopoietic
learning (here, I deploy the meaning of Francisco Varelas term in a context different to
the original one) with a view to helping learners to build on prior knowledge and
understand how to construct new knowledge from authentic experiencecertainly a
view in keeping with Rogers experiential learning (Rogers, 1969, 1994). C. Rogers, one of
the exponents of experiential learningthe tenets of which are inextricably related to,
and congruent with, those of constructivismmade the distinction between cognitive
learning, which he deemed meretricious, and experiential learning, which he considered
significant. For him, the qualities of experiential learning include:
personal involvement;
evaluation by learner; and
pervasive effects on learner (see the web document:
Rogers humanistic approach to learning is also conducive to personal change and
growth, and can facilitate learning, provided that the student participates completely in
the learning process and has control over its nature and direction; it is primarily based
upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems; and,
self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success. ibid.)
Interestingly, contrasting this approach with the typical behaviourist classroom, where
students are merely passive receptacles of information from the teacher and the
textbook, is rather revealing. We will come to that later on in the study. At this juncture,
it is important to briefly discuss the theories of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Jerome
Bruner that have certainly influenced our stance toward the nature of learning and,
concomitantly, teaching. For Dewey, knowledge emerges only from situations in which
learners have to draw them out of meaningful experiences (see Democracy and Education,
1916 and Experience and Education, 1938). Further, these situations have to be embedded
in a social context, such as a classroom, where students can take part in manipulating
materials and, thus, forming a community of learners who construct their knowledge
together. Students cannot learn by means of rote memorisation; they can only learn by
directed living, whereby concrete activities are combined with theory. The obvious
implication of Deweys theory is that students must be engaged in meaningful activities
that induce them to apply the concepts they are trying to learn.
Piaget's constructivism is premised on his view of the psychological development of
children. Within his theory, the basis of learning is discovery: To understand is to
discover, or reconstruct by rediscovery, and such conditions must be complied with if
in the future individuals are to be formed who are capable of production and creativity
and not simply repetition (Piaget, 1973). According to Piaget, children go through
stages in which they accept ideas they may later discard as wrong. Understanding,
therefore, is built up step by step through active participation and involvement.
However, applying Piagets theory is not so straightforward a task as it may sound.
(see http://curriculum.calstatela.edu/faculty/psparks/theorists/501const.htm)
According to Bruner, learning is a social process, whereby students construct new
concepts based on current knowledge. The student selects information, constructs
hypotheses, and makes decisions, with the aim of integrating new experiences into his
existing mental constructs. It is cognitive structures that provide meaning and
organization to experiences and allow learners to transcend the boundaries of the
information given. For him, learner independence, fostered through encouraging
students to discover new principles of their own accord, lies at the heart of effective
education. Moreover, curriculum should be organized in a spiral manner so that
students can build upon what they have already learned. In short, the principles that
permeate Bruners theory are the following (see Bruner, 1973):
Instruction must be commensurate with the experiences that make the student
willing and able to learn (readiness).
Instruction must be structured so that it can be easily understood by the student
(spiral organization).
Instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation (going beyond the
information given).
It could be argued that constructivism emphasizes the importance of the world
knowledge, beliefs, and skills an individual brings to bear on learning. Viewing the
construction of new knowledge as a combination of prior learning matched against new
information, and readiness to learn, this theory opens up new perspectives, leading
individuals to informed choices about what to accept and how to fit it into their existing
schemata, as well as what to reject. Recapitulating the main principles of
constructivism, we could say that it emphasises learning and not teaching, encourages
learner autonomy and personal involvement in learning, looks to learners as
incumbents of significant roles and as agents exercising will and purpose, fosters
learners natural curiosity, and also takes account of learners affect, in terms of their
beliefs, attitudes, and motivation. In addition, within constructivist theory, context is
accorded significance, as it renders situations and events meaningful and relevant, and
provides learners with the opportunity to construct new knowledge from authentic
experience. After all,
Learning is contextual: we do not learn isolated facts and theories in some abstract ethereal land of
the mind separate from the rest of our lives: we learn in relationship to what else we know, what we
believe, our prejudices and our fears. On reflection, it becomes clear that this point is actually a
corollary of the idea that learning is active and social. We cannot divorce our learning from our lives
(Hein, 1991, see www.exploratorium.edu/IFI/resources/constructivistlearning.html).
What is more, by providing opportunities for independent thinking, constructivism
allows students to take responsibility for their own learning, by framing questions and
then analyzing them. Reaching beyond simple factual information, learners are induced
to establish connections between ideas and thus to predict, justify, and defend their
ideas (adapted from In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms by
Jacqueline G. Brooks and Martin G. Brooks, Alexandria, VA: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1993).
Having expatiated upon the main tenets of constructivism, let us now content ourselves
with juxtaposing constructivism with other theories, objectivist theories that is, and,
more specifically, contiguity theory. Byrnes (1996) and Arseneau and Rodenburg (1998)
contrast objectivist and constructivist approaches to teaching and learning.
Objectivist View Constructivist View
Knowledge exists outside of
individuals and can be transferred
from teachers to students.
Knowledge has personal meaning. It is
created by individual students.
Students learn what they hear and
what they read. If a teacher
explains abstract concepts well,
students will learn those concepts.
Learners construct their own knowledge
by looking for meaning and order; they
interpret what they hear, read, and see
based on their previous learning and
habits. Students who do not have
appropriate backgrounds will be unable
to accurately hear or see what is
before them.
Learning is successful when
students can repeat what was
Learning is successful when students
can demonstrate conceptual
Amongst the din of shifting paradigms, a theory that used to dominate the field but is
not well-known is contiguity theory, an exponent of which is E. Guthrie. The classic
experimental paradigm for contiguity theory is cats learning to escape from a puzzle
box (Guthrie & Horton, 1946). Guthrie used a glass box which allowed him to
photograph the movements of cats. These photographs showed that cats learned to
repeat the same movements associated with the preceding escape from the box. In this
vein, improvement comes about when irrelevant movements are unlearned or not
included in successive associations. Drawing upon behaviouristic principles, contiguity
theory sets out to show that, in order for conditioning to occur, the organism must
actively respond; inasmuch as learning involves the conditioning of specific behaviours,
instruction boils down to presenting very specific tasks; exposure to variations in
stimulus patterns is necessary in order to produce a generalized response; and the last
response in a stimulus-response situation should be correct since it is this one that will
be associated (see http://www.educationau.edu.au/archives/cp/04b.htm).
Within a positivistic tradition, so to speak, under which come the theories of
behaviourism, contiguity theory, and many others, the learner was, and still is, seen as
relatively passive, simply absorbing information transmitted by a didactic teacher
(Long, 2000: 6). In the universe created by these paradigms, the powerless learner is
worlds apart from the omniscient and powerful teacher, whose main concern is to
deliver a standard curriculum and to evaluate stable underlying differences between
children (ibid.). Against this background, the cognitive paradigm of constructivism has
been instrumental in shifting the locus of responsibility for learning from the teacher to
the learner, who is no longer seen as passive or powerless. The student is viewed as an
individual who is active in constructing new knowledge and understanding, while the
teacher is seen as a facilitator rather than a dictator of learning. Yet, despite its
democratic nature, many contemporary philosophers and educationalists have tried
to demolish or vitiate some of its principles. Such a discussion is outside the remit of
this study, of course. We will only briefly mention George Hein (1991, see
www.exploratorium.edu/IFI/resources/constructivistlearning.html), who voices some
reservations about constructivist learning.
For Hein, constructivism, although it appears radical on an everyday level, is a position
which has been frequently adopted ever since people began to ponder epistemology
(ibid.). According to him, if we align ourselves with constructivist theory, which means
we are willing to follow in the footsteps of Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky, among others,
then we have to run counter to Platonic views of epistemology. We have to recognize
that knowledge is not out there, independent of the knower, but knowledge is what
we construct for ourselves as we learn. Besides, we have to concede that learning is not
tantamount to understanding the true nature of things, nor is it (as Plato suggested)
akin to remembering perfect ideas, but rather a personal and social construction of
meaning out of the bewildering array of sensations which have no order or structure
besides the explanationswhich we fabricate for them (ibid.).
It goes without saying that learners represent a rich array of different backgrounds and
ways of thinking and feeling. If the classroom can become a neutral zone where
students can exchange their personal views and critically evaluate those of others, each
student can build understanding based on empirical evidence. We have no intention of
positing methods and techniques for creating a constructivist classroom. After all,
classrooms are, and should be, amenable and sensitive to a whole lot of approaches to
teaching and learning, and a slavish adherence to the letter rather than the spirit of
education is bound to prove detrimental. It should be borne in mind that the theory of
constructivism, with which we have been concerned, is not yet another educational
decree. Like philosophy, constructivism can lead to its own de-construction, in the
sense that it forges the very structures and associations that could possibly demolish it.
It is a meta-theory, in that it fosters a meta-critical awareness. A constructivist
orientation to learning is unique because at its heart lies the individual learner in toto,
rather than dimly perceived apparitions of her essence. Constructivism is a modern
version of human anatomy, in the sense that it is based on, and provides insights into,
brain mechanisms, mental structures, and willingness to learn.

Arseneau, R., & Rodenburg, D. (1998). The Developmental Perspective: Cultivating
Ways of Thinking. In D. D. Pratt (Ed.). Five Perspectives on Teaching in Adult and Higher
Education. Malabar, FL: Krieger.
Brooks, G. J. and Brooks, G. M. (1993). In Search of Understanding: The Case for
Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Bruner, J. (1973). Going Beyond the Information Given. New York: Norton.
Byrnes, J. P. (1996). Cognitive Development and Learning in Instructional Contexts. Boston:
Allyn and Bacon.
Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan.
Dewey, John. (1966). Democracy and Education. New York: Free Press.
Drapikowski, J. personal communication
Francisco Varela, co-author with Humberto D. Maturana of Autopoiesis and Cognition:
The Realization of the Living (1980)
Guthrie, E.R. & Horton, G.P. (1946). Cats in a Puzzle Box. New York: Rinehart.
Hein, G. (1991).
Long, M. (2000). The Psychology of Education. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Piaget, Jean. (1973). To Understand is to Invent. New York: Grossman.
Rogers, C.R. (1969). Freedom to Learn. Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Rogers, C.R. & Freiberg, H.J. (1994). Freedom to Learn (3rd Ed). Columbus, OH:
Merrill/MacMillan, (http://www.educationau.edu.au/archives/cp/04f.htm)
Introduction to John Dewey's Philosophy of Education
Education is life itself.
- John Dewey
John Dewey (1859-1952) believed that learning was active and schooling unnecessarily long and
restrictive. His idea was that children came to school to do things and live in a community
which gave them real, guided experiences which fostered their capacity to contribute to society.
For example, Dewey believed that students should be involved in real-life tasks and challenges:

maths could be learnt via learning proportions in cooking or figuring
out how long it would take to get from one place to another by mule
history could be learnt by experiencing how people lived,
geography, what the climate was like, and how plants and animals
grew, were important subjects
Dewey had a gift for suggesting activities that captured the center of what
his classes were studying.
Dewey's education philosophy helped forward the "progressive education" movement, and
spawned the development of "experiential education" programs and experiments.

Back to
Experiential Learning
John Dewey
John Dewey, the Modern Father of
Experiential Education
James Neill
Last updated:
26 Jan 2005

Dewey is lauded as the greatest educational thinker of the 20th century. His theory of
experience continues to be much read and discussed not only within education, but also
in psychology and philosophy. Dewey's views continue to strongly influence the
design of innovative educational approaches, such as in outdoor education, adult
training, and experiential therapies.
In the 1920's / 1930's, John Dewey became famous for pointing out that the
authoritarian, strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education
was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding
students' actual experiences.
Dewey became the champion, or philosophical father of experiential education, or as it
was then referred to, progressive education. But he was also critical of completely
"free, student-driven" education because students often don't know how to structure
their own learning experiences for maximum benefit.

Why do so many students hate school? It seems an obvious, but ignored question.
Dewey said that an educator must take into account the unique differences between
each student. Each person is different genetically and in terms of past experiences.
Even when a standard curricula is presented using established pedagogical methods,
each students will have a different quality of experience. Thus, teaching and
curriculum must be designed in ways that allow for such individual differences.
For Dewey, education also a broader social purpose, which was to help people become
more effective members of democratic society. Dewey argued that the one-way
delivery style of authoritarian schooling does not provide a good model for life in
democratic society. Instead, students need educational experiences which enable them
to become valued, equal, and responsible members of society.
The most common misunderstanding about Dewey is that he was simply supporting
progressive education. Progressive education, according to Dewey, was a wild swing
in the philosophical pendulum, against traditional education methods. In progressive
education, freedom was the rule, with students being relatively unconstrained by the
educator. The problem with progressive education, said Dewey, is that freedom alone
is no solution. Learning needs a structure and order, and must be based on a clear
theory of experience, not simply the whim of teachers or students.
Thus, Dewey proposed that education be designed on the basis of a theory of
experience. We must understand the nature of how humans have the experiences they
do, in order to design effective education. In this respect, Dewey's theory of
experience rested on two central tenets -- continuity and interaction.
Continuity refers to the notion that humans are sensitive to (or are affected by)
experience. Humans survive more by learning from experience after they are born than
do many other animals who rely primarily on pre-wired instinct. In humans, education
is critical for providing people with the skills to live in society. Dewey argued that we
learn something from every experience, whether positive or negative and ones
accumulated learned experience influences the nature of one's future experiences.
Thus, every experience in some way influences all potential future experiences for an
individual. Continuity refers to this idea that s each experience is stored and carried on
into the future, whether one likes it or not.
I nteraction builds upon the notion of continuity and explains how past experience
interacts with the present situation, to create one's present experience. Dewey's
hypothesis is that your current experience can be understood as a function of your past
(stored) experiences which interacting with the present situation to create an
individual's experience. This explains the "one man's meat is another man's poison"
maxim. Any situation can be experienced in profoundly different ways because of
unique individual differences e.g., one student loves school, another hates the same
school. This is important for educators to understand. Whilst they can't control
students' past experiences, they can try to understand those past experiences so that
better educational situations can be presented to the students. Ultimately, all a teacher
has control over is the design of the present situation. The teacher with good insight
into the effects of past experiences which students bring with them better enables the
teacher to provide quality education which is relevant and meaningful for the students.
To learn more, read a 500 word summary of Dewey's classic book "Experience &

Carl Rogers (1902 - 1987)
Experiential Learning


Carl Rogers was born January 8, 1902 in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. He learned to read
before age 5. His upbringing was strict and he and his five siblings had many chores. He entered the
University of Wisconsin, and as a student of Christian ministry, he was selected to go to Beijing for the
World Student Christian Federation Conference for six months. This experience changed his thinking
such that he began to doubt some of his religious beliefs. He instead entered the clinical psychology
program of Columbia University, and received his Ph.D. in 1931.

For a few years he did clinical work at the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. At
this clinic, he learned about Otto Ranks theory and therapy techniques, which inspired him in
developing his own approach.

In 1940 he joined the faculty of Ohio State University as a full professor. In 1942, he published his first
book, Counseling and Psychotherapy. In 1945, he relocated to the University of Chicago to set up a
counseling center. In 1951 he published his major work, Client-Centered Therapy, wherein he outlines
his basic theory.

In 1957, he returned to teach at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, it was a
time of conflict within their psychology department, and Rogers became very disillusioned with higher
education. In 1964, he was happy to accept a research position in La Jolla, California. He provided
therapy, gave speeches, and wrote, until his death in 1987.


Rogers was discouraged by the emphasis on cognitivism in education. He believed this was responsible
for the loss of excitement and enthusiasm for learning. Rogers' point of view emphasized the inclusion
of feelings and emotions in education. He believed that education and therapy shared similar goals of
personal change and self-knowing. He was interested in learning that leads to personal growth and
development, as was Maslow.

His 1983 book, Freedom to Learn for the 80's presented his full theory of experiential learning. He
believed that the highest levels of significant learning included personal involvement at both the
affective and cognitive levels, were self-initiated, were so pervasive they could change attitudes,
behavior, and in some cases, even the personality of the learner. Learnings needed to be evaluated by
the learner and take on meaning as part of the total experience.

Rogers outlined attitudes which characterized a true facilitator of learning:
1. Realness - the instructor should not present a "front" or "facade" but should strive to be aware of
his/her own feelings and to communicate them in the classroom context. The instructor should present
genuineness, and engage in direct personal encounters with the learner.
2. Prizing the Learner - This characteristic includes acceptance and trust of each individual student. The
instructor must be able to accept the fear, hesitation, apathy, and goals of the learner.
3. Empathic Understanding - The instructor can understand the student's reactions from the inside.

Rogers warned that a non-judgmental teacher is sure to arouse suspicion in older students and adults,
because they have been "conned" so many times. The wise teacher is aware of this and can accept their
initial distrust and apprehension as new relationships between teacher and students are built.
Experiential Learning (C. Rogers)
Rogers distinguished two types of learning: cognitive (meaningless) and experiential
(significant). The former corresponds to academic knowledge such as learning vocabulary or
multiplication tables and the latter refers to applied knowledge such as learning about engines in
order to repair a car. The key to the distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs
and wants of the learner. Rogers lists these qualities of experiential learning: personal
involvement, self-initiated, evaluated by learner, and pervasive effects on learner.
To Rogers, experiential learning is equivalent to personal change and growth. Rogers feels that
all human beings have a natural propensity to learn; the role of the teacher is to facilitate such
learning. This includes: (1) setting a positive climate for learning, (2) clarifying the purposes of
the learner(s), (3) organizing and making available learning resources, (4) balancing intellectual
and emotional components of learning, and (5) sharing feelings and thoughts with learners but
not dominating.
According to Rogers, learning is facilitated when: (1) the student participates completely in the
learning process and has control over its nature and direction, (2) it is primarily based upon
direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems, and (3) self-evaluation
is the principal method of assessing progress or success. Rogers< also emphasizes the
importance of learning to learn and an openness to change.
Roger's theory of learning evolved as part of the humanistic education movement (e.g.,
Patterson, 1973; Valett, 1977).
Roger's theory of learning originates from his views about psychotherapy and humanistic
approach to psychology. It applies primarily to adult learners and has influenced other theories of
adult learning such as Knowles and Cross. Combs (1982) examines the significance of Roger's
work to education. Rogers & Frieberg (1994) discuss applications of the experiential learning
framework to the classroom.
A person interested in becoming rich might seek out books or classes on ecomomics, investment,
great financiers, banking, etc. Such an individual would perceive (and learn) any information
provided on this subject in a much different fashion than a person who is assigned a reading or
1. Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is relevant to the personal interests of
the student
2. Learning which is threatening to the self (e.g., new attitudes or perspectives) are more easily
assimilated when external threats are at a minimum
3. Learning proceeds faster when the threat to the self is low
4. Self-initiated learning is the most lasting and pervasive.
carl rogers, core conditions and education
Best known for his contribution to client-centered therapy
and his role in the development of counselling, Rogers also
had much to say about education and group work.
contents: introduction core conditions carl rogers on education rogers' influence further reading
and references links how to cite this article see, also : the groupwork pioneers series
Carl Ransom Rogers (1902 - 1987) was born in Oak
Park, Illinois, and is best known as the founder of 'client-centred' or 'non-directive' therapy.
Rogers initially studied theology - and as part of his studies acted as the pastor in a small church
in Vermont. However, he turned to clinical and educational psychology, studying at Teachers'
College of Columbia University. There he grew into clinical practice drawing on such diverse
sources as Otto Rank and John Dewey (the latter through the influence of W. H. Kilpatrick - a
former student of Dewey's). This mix of influences - and Carl Rogers' ability to link elements
together - helps to put into context his later achievements. The concern with opening up to, and
theorizing from experience, the concept of the human organism as a whole and the belief in the
possibilities of human action have their parallels in the work of John Dewey. Carl Rogers was
able to join these with therapeutic insights and the belief, borne out of his practice experience,
that the client usually knows better to how to proceed than the therapist.
Core conditions
Thorne argues that it is not too simplistic to, 'affirm that the whole conceptual framework of Carl
Rogers rests on his profound experience that human beings become increasingly trustworthy
once they feel at a deep level that their subjective experience is both respected and progressively
understood' (1992: 26). We can see this belief at work in his best known contribution - the 'core
conditions' for facilitative (counselling and educational) practice - congruence (realness),
acceptance and empathy).
Exhibit 1: Carl Rogers on the interpersonal relationship in the facilitation of learning

What are these qualities, these attitudes, that facilitate learning?
Realness in the facilitator of learning. Perhaps the most basic of these essential attitudes is
realness or genuineness. When the facilitator is a real person, being what she is, entering into a
relationship with the learner without presenting a front or a faade, she is much more likely to be
effective. This means that the feelings that she is experiencing are available to her, available to
her awareness, that she is able to live these feelings, be them, and able to communicate if
appropriate. It means coming into a direct personal encounter with the learner, meeting her on a
person-to-person basis. It means that she is being herself, not denying herself.
Prizing, acceptance, trust. There is another attitude that stands out in those who are successful in
facilitating learning I think of it as prizing the learner, prizing her feelings, her opinions, her
person. It is a caring for the learner, but a non-possessive caring. It is an acceptance of this other
individual as a separate person, having worth in her own right. It is a basic trust - a belief that
this other person is somehow fundamentally trustworthy What we are describing is a prizing
of the learner as an imperfect human being with many feelings, many potentialities. The
facilitators prizing or acceptance of the learner is an operational expression of her essential
confidence and trust in the capacity of the human organism.
Empathic understanding. A further element that establishes a climate for self-initiated
experiential learning is emphatic understanding. When the teacher has the ability to understand
the students reactions from the inside, has a sensitive awareness of the way the process of
education and learning seems to the student, then again the likelihood of significant learning is
increased. [Students feel deeply appreciative] when they are simply understood not
evaluated, not judged, simply understood from their own point of view, not the teachers.
(Rogers 1967 304-311)
This orientation has a number of attractions for those seeking to work with the 'whole person'
and to promote human flourishing. Notions of wholeness overlap with what Carl Rogers
describes as congruence or 'realness'; and the attitude embodied and conveyed by educators may
be accepting and valuing of the other (Rogers 1951). However, his third condition 'empathetic
understanding' does raise a number of problems. Rogers emphasizes achieving a full an
understanding of the other person as is possible. This involves a willingness and ability to enter
'the private perceptual world of the client without fear and to become thoroughly conversant with
it' (Thorne 1992: 31). Here we might argue that in conversation, the task is not so much to enter
and understand the other person, as to work for understanding and commitment. This is not
achieved simply by getting into the shoes of another. Conversation involves working to bring
together the insights and questions of the different parties; it entails the fusion of a number of
perspectives, not the entering into of one (Gadamer 1979: 271-3). As Freire (1972: 63) put it, at
the point of encounter, 'there are neither ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only men who
are attempting, together to learn more than they now know'. In this respect, we might be arguing
for dialogical - rather than person-centred, practice. There are problems when the practitioner ,
'concentrates on the other person as such rather than on the subject matter - when he looks at the
other person, as it were, rather than with him at what the other attempts to communicate' (Linge
1976: xx).
On education
The strength of Rogers' approach lies in part in his focus on relationship. As he once wrote, The
facilitation of significant learning rests upon certain attitudinal qualities that exist in the personal
relationship between facilitator and learner(1990: 305). Freedom to Learn (1969; 1983; 1993) is
a classic statement of educational possibility in this respect. However, he had already begun to
explore the notion of 'student-centred teaching' in Client-Centered Therapy (1951: 384-429).
There, as Barrett-Lennard (1998: 184) notes, he offered several hypothesized general principles.
These included:
We cannot teach another person directly; we can only facilitate his learning.
The structure and organization of the self appears to become more rigid under threat; to relax its
boundaries when completely free from threat...
The educational situation which most effectively promotes significant learning is one in which 1)
threat to the self of the learner is reduced a minimum, and 2) differentiated perception of the field
of experience is facilitated.
In this we can see something of Rogers' debt to Dewey - but something else had been added in
his particular concern with experience and selfhood. First, there is an interest in looking at the
particular issues, questions and problems that participants bring (this is not a strongly
curriculum-based orientation and has some parallels with the subsequent interest in self-direction
in learning). Second, he draws in insights from more psychodynamic traditions of thinking (as
did educators such as A. S. Neill and Homer Lane).
Freedom to Learn brought together a number of existing papers along with new material -
including a fascinating account of 'My way of facilitating a class'. Significantly, this exploration
brings out the significant degree of preparation that Rogers involved himself in (including setting
out aims, reading, workshop structure etc.) (Barrett-Lennard 1998: 186). Carl Rogers was a
gifted teacher. His approach grew from his orientation in one-to-one professional encounters. He
saw himself as a facilitator - one who created the environment for engagement. This he might do
through making a short (often provocative, input). However, what he was also to emphasize was
the attitude of the facilitator. There were 'ways of being' with others that foster exploration and
encounter - and these are more significant than the methods employed. His paper 'The
interpersonal relationship in the facilitation of learning' is an important statement of this
orientation (included in Hirschenbaum and Henderson's [1990] collection and in Freedom to
Learn). The danger in this is, of course, of underestimating the contribution of 'teaching'. There
is a role for information transmission. Here Carl Rogers could be charged with misrepresenting,
or overlooking, his own considerable abilities as a teacher. His apparent emphasis on facilitation
and non-directiveness has to put alongside the guru-like status that he was accorded in teaching
encounters. What appears on the page as a question or an invitation to explore something can be
experienced as the giving of insight by participants in his classes.
Roger's influence
These elements do not, on their own, explain the phenomenal growth of the 'person-centred'
school of psychotherapy. To explain this we have to look at the man and the moment. Carl
Rogers was an accomplished communicator - both in person and through his writings and films.
He was also a committed practitioner who looked to his own experiences (and was, thus, difficult
to dismiss as 'academic). He was able to demystify therapy; to focus on the person of the
counsellor and the client (as against a concentration on technique and method); and crucially to
emphasize honesty and the destructiveness of manipulation. In the service of the latter Carl
Rogers was extremely wary of attempting to dig into, and make sense of the unconscious (and
this could also be seen as a significant weakness in his work in some quarters). In short, he
offered a new way, a break with earlier traditions. Crucially these concerns chimed with the
interests of significant groups of people. Psychologists wanting to enter the field of
psychotherapy; case, pastoral and youth workers wanting to develop their practice; lay people
wanting to help or understand those with 'problems' - all could get something from Rogers.
The history and focus of Carl Rogers' work was one of the reasons why he has been so attractive
to successive generations of informal educators. This was a language to which they could relate.
The themes and concerns he developed seemingly had a direct relevance to their work with
troubled individuals. Informal educators also had access to these ideas. Rogers' popularity with
those providing counselling training (at various levels) opened up his work to large numbers of
workers. Crucially the themes he developed were general enough to be applied to therapeutic
work with groups (for example, see his work on Encounter Groups (1970, New York: Harper
and Row) (see encounter) and in education. Significantly, Carl Rogers took up the challenge to
explore what a person-centred form of education might look like.
Carl Rogers has provided educators with some fascinating and important questions with regard
to their way of being with participants, and the processes they might employ. The danger in his
work for informal educators lays in what has been a point of great attraction - his person-
centredness. Informal education is not so much person-centred as dialogical. A focus on the other
rather than on what lies between us could lead away from the relational into a rather selfish
individualism. Indeed, this criticism could also be made of the general direction of his
therapeutic endeavours.
Maslow, Abraham H. (1908-1970)
Humanistic Theory of Learning

1908 1970, Born in Brooklyn NY
Ph.D., Univ. of Wisconsin, 1934


Abraham Maslow has been considered the Father of Humanistic Psychology. Maslow's theory is
based on the notion that experience is the primary phenomenon in the study of human learning
and behavior. He placed emphasis on choice, creativity, values, self-realization, all distinctively
human qualities, and believed that meaningfulness and subjectivity were more important than
objectivity. For Maslow, development of human potential, dignity and worth are ultimate

Maslow rejected behaviorist views and Freud's theories on the basis of their reductionistic
approaches. He felt Freud's view of human nature was negative, and he valued goodness, nobility
and reason. Also, Freud concentrated on the mentally ill, and Maslow was interested in healthy
human psychology.

Maslow and his colleagues came to refer to their movement as third force psychology, the first
two being psychoanalysis and behaviorism. The third force is based on philosophies of
existentialism and humanism.

He is famous for proposing that human motivation is based on a hierarchy of needs. The lowest
level of needs are physiological and survival needs such as hunger and thirst. Further levels
include belonging and love, self-esteem, and self-actualization.

From Maslow's perspective, the drive to learn is intrinsic. The purpose of learning is to bring
about self-actualization, and the goals of educators should include this process. Learning
contributes to psychological health. Maslow proposed other goals of learning, including
discovery of one's vocation or destiny; knowledge of values; realization of life as precious,
acquisition of peak experiences, sense of accomplishment, satisfaction of psychological needs,
awareness of beauty and wonder in life, impulse control, developing choice, and grappling with
the critical existential problems of life.

Maslow's theory of learning highlighted the differences between experiential knowledge and
spectator knowledge. He regarded spectator, or scientific, knowledge to be inferior to

Properties of experiential learning include:
immersion in the experience without awareness of the flow of time
momentarily not being self-conscious
transcending time, place, history, and society by being beyond and unaffected by them
merging with that which is being experienced
being innocently receptive, as a child, uncritical
suspending temporarily evaluation of the experience in terms of its importance or
lack of inhibition, subsiding of selfishness, fear, defensiveness
experience unfolds naturally without striving or effort
suspending criticism, validation, and evaluation of the experience
trusting experience by passively letting it happen; letting go of preconceived notions
disengaging from logical, analytical, and rational activities
Abraham H. Maslow felt as though conditioning theories did not adequately acapture the
complexity of human behavior. In a 1943 paper called A Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow
presented the idea that human actions are directed toward goal attainment. Any given behavior
could satisfy several functions at the same time; for instance, going to a pub could satisfy ones
needs for self-esteem and for social interaction.
Maslows Hierarchy of Needs has often been represented in a hierarchial pyramid with five
levels. The four levels (lower-order needs) are considered physiological needs, while the top
level is considered growth needs. The lower level needs need to be satisfied before higher-order
needs can influence behavior. The levels are as follows (see pyramid in Figure 1 below).
Self-actualization morality, creativity, problem solving, etc.
Esteem includes confidence, self-esteem, achievement, respect, etc.
Belongingness includes love, friendship, intimacy, family, etc.
Safety includes security of environment, employment, resources, health, property, etc.
Physiological includes air, food, water, sex, sleep, other factors towards homeostasis,

Figure 1. Maslows Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid.
Deprivation Needs
The first four levels are considered deficiency or deprivation needs (D-needs) in that their lack
of satisfaction causes a deficiency that motivates people to meet these needs. Physiological
needs, the lowest level on the hierarchy, include necessities such as air, food, and water. These
tend to be satisfied for most people, but they become predominant when unmet. During
emergencies, safety needs such as health and security rise to the forefront. Once these two levels
are met, belongingness needs, such as obtaining love and intimate relationships or close
friendships, become important. The next level, esteem needs, include the need for recognition
from others, confidence, achievement, and self-esteem.
Growth Needs
The highest level is self-actualization, or the self-fulfillment. Behavior in this case is not driven
or motivated by deficiencies but rather ones desire for personal growth and the need to become
all the things that a person is capable of becoming (Maslow, 1970).
While a useful guide for generally understanding why students behave the way that they do and
in determining how learning may be affected by physiological or safety deficiencies, Maslows
theory has its share of criticisms. Some have noted vagueness in what is a deficiency; what is a
deficiency for one is not necessarily a deficiency for another. Secondly, there seem to be various
exceptions that frequently occur. For example, some people often risk their own safety to rescue
others from danger.
Theory of Value:
Individuals are driven by needs: safety, respect, esteem. They construct individual value systems
that relate to these needs (1: p.40).
As needs are met- individual can explore higher levels of gratification and values change or
clarify (1: p. 155).
Adults pass values on to children - if no adults present, children learn from other children (1: p.
Theory of Knowledge:
Knowledge should include acquiring skills related to dealing with realities of life (2:p.224).
Important for children/adults to learn how to learn, rather than absorbing facts (2: p.224).
Knowledge is continuous, flowing, changing, and needs to account for individual needs and
development (3: p. 138).
Theory of Human Nature:
All individuals have vast potential that are blocked by unmet needs (1: p. 15 1).
This potential has not fully been regarded by psychologists or educators (1: pp. 215 - 216).
All of us should be able to self-actualize- but children have this potential taken from them (1:
Theory of Learning:
Learning can only take place when basic needs have been met (1: p.40).
Learner perceive education in more accurate terms when needs are met and learning becomes the
priority (2: pp. 321 - 324).
How students emotionally view the world- sets the foundation for learning (3: pp. 132 - 138).
Theory of Transmission:
Stressing of liberal arts especially focused on ethical and developmental issues (2: p. 322).
Educators should strive for excellence - teaching is an art of transmitting a purpose, mission (2:
p. 324).
Student leadership development, and development of whole person should be the role of teachers
-- affective and cognitive (3: p. 322 - 324).
Theory of Society
Ideal society is one that facilitates individual development to full potential (4: p. 193).
Too much individual attention to development might hamper group goals (3: p. 322).
Society may be a collection of individuals with unfulfilled potential (1: p. 155).
Theory of Opportunity:
Every newborn has the capacity to self-actualize ... Only a few actually do (1: p. 40).
Learning for all of society so that needs can be met, values developed, potential possibly reached
(3: p. 332).
Theory of Consensus:
Those whose needs have been met can be critical thinkers and not "slaves" to societal norms (1:
Self-actualization improves society, culture - from within (1: p. 94).