The constructivist approach to learning presupposes that students should take an active part in constructing the educational process instead of absorbing knowledge passively, in contrast to a teacher-centred system in which a lecturer simply transfers information to listeners.
Experts from Pro-Papers have written this article to give you the general idea of constructivism in education.
Constructivist learning strategies are aimed at:
- Encouraging students’ initiative;
- Leadership qualities;
- Teaching them to take independent decisions; and
- Solve academic tasks without professors’/tutors’ supervision.
In a constructivist class, learners constantly stay involved and have the opportunity to express their ideas in a democratic environment.
All activities have a student-centred and interactive character.
A class is usually split into groups. Learners communicate while performing group tasks, develop social skills, learn to collaborate, exchange thoughts and look at things from peers’ perspective.
In contrast, a traditional system presupposes that everyone works alone, repeats boring rules and rewrites passages from textbooks to memorise the key concepts.
Here are the activities making constructivist learning efficient and entertaining:
- Experimentation: Young people can get hands-on experience by performing experiments and discussing them in a group.
- Research projects: A student can explore an interesting topic, present findings at lessons or scientific conferences.
- Field trips: Change of scenery is rather beneficial for learners. It brings new emotions and impressions, matches theoretical information with the real world. Trips are usually followed by discussions in a class.
- Films: Why waste energy and explain something if it may be shown? Thanks to visual content, learners may read less, while professors do not struggle to describe challenging concepts. There are things which should better be seen. For example, a lecturer can tell much about human anatomy, but it is difficult for students to imagine how all organs and systems work. A short film with good graphics would be much more instructive.
- Maintaining campus wikis: It is very convenient for school and universities to have internal electronic libraries. Each learner can find course materials on one’s major without visiting dozens of web-pages and paying for resources with limited access.
Constructivist approaches are popular in online education.
Even though learners do not have a physical contact with professors/tutors and classmates, the learning process stays dynamic thanks to:
- Skype consultations;
- Web conferences;
- Thematic forums;
- Academic databases; and
A Teacher’s Role
- Acts as a facilitator and an instructor;
- Encourages students’ interest but does not shift attention focus to oneself;
- Asks questions to maintain a discussion; and
- Leads learners to personal conclusions but does not impose one’s own mindset.
Here are the three main functions educators should perform to facilitate the educational process:
- Modeling: There are two types:
- Behavioural modelling aimed to identify how certain tasks should be fulfilled; and
- Cognitive modelling foreseeing students’ thought processes at the moment of action.
- Coaching: Professors/tutors should motivate students to:
- Track their performance;
- Provide feedback and offer options for personal development;
- Explain how necessary information may be found; and
- Invite young people to reflect, analyse, and summarise their learning results.
- This function refers to any support an educator may provide to a student when this pair performs academic tasks together.
- It is professor’s/tutor’s responsibility to choose the most efficient assignments, create comfortable learning atmosphere, eliminate distractions, make sure a learner can focus and study productively.
Educational goals and environments
In the traditional educational system, students are asked to do some things, but professors/tutor do not (necessarily) explain why this work is necessary and important. The need for essay writing, reading textbooks and constant cramming is explained in the following way: “It is important for your future.” But learners do not want to wait several years to see results. They want to feel changes now.
Constructivists believe that a learning environment should be built around certain goals or issues which may be addressed in a class. When young people have tasks to be solved and understand the significance of their actions, learning enthusiasm is usually much higher, and it is easier to absorb theoretical information. There should be more interesting, relevant, engaging questions, case studies, research projects, and hypothetical problems to facilitate this.
It is worth remembering that the complexity of tasks should correspond to learners’ experience. As time passes, a professor/tutor may set more challenging tasks thus boosting young people’s skills. Also, there should be good informational support, counselling on efficient collaborative and cognitive techniques.
In the traditional educational system, testing is usually used as the key grading instrument. Marks are perceived as something more important than the learning process itself. Constructivists believe that all lectures and seminars are as important as exams, grades should depend on both final and intermediary results. Here are some constructivist grading strategies:
- Oral discussions: An educator poses a question or provides a topic and allows young people to express their opinion.
- Assessing student’s progress: This approach requires long observations, comparing person’s achievements at different stages, making conclusions on whether this person acts consistently, fulfils all tasks set, undertakes responsibility for decisions made, can analyse personal performance and formulate new goals.
- Hands-on activities: Educators assess how well learners cope with practical experiments, particular materials and instruments.
- Mind mapping: A professor/tutor assigns a topic, while learners should list related ideas, concepts and sort them into categories.
- Intermediary testing: It is worth determining what knowledge students have on a passed topic and working on errors before moving to the following one.