Insys 527: Designing Constructivist Learning Environments
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History of Constructivism

Constructivism is a philosophy that views knowledge as something each of us creates, rather than something that exists in the physical world. Perhaps the best way to understand it is to describe how it evolved from other learning theories in the 20th century.

In the early part of the 20th century, behaviorism dominated educational theories and research. Behaviorists held that the scientific study of psychology must restrict itself to the study of observable behaviors. Behaviorists viewed learning as a process of stimulating learners to behave differently. It was when learners demonstrated new behaviors that learning could assume to have occurred.

The limitation of behaviorism is that it did nothing to address what happened inside learners' minds. In response to this limitation, cognitive psychology emerged in the 1950s. Cognitivists were concerned not so much with behavioral responses, but rather with how people learned. The mental processes involved in learning were, and continue to be, the focus of most cognitivist research.

Constructivism takes the cognitivist focus on the mind one step further. According to constructivists, knowledge is something each person "constructs," based on personal experiences. Reality is different for each person. Education, therefore, is never a matter of teaching one objective "truth," it is a matter of helping people arrive at their own personal constructions of reality.

In contrast to both behaviorism and early cognitivism, constructivism is not an objectivist theory in which "truth" is viewed as external to the learner, and the mind acts to process input from reality. The challenge posed by constructivism is that it presents a new view of how reality is perceived, and implies entirely new roles for teachers and students alike.
spacerHal Medrano | Spring 2005