Knowledge is acquired through interaction of learners with fellow students, teachers and learning materials. To help the learners, instructors should have an understanding of their students by examining them and the resources available to tackle the problem. They should also understand the problem to be solved and examine the kind of knowledge needed by learners to do it. This means that they should have an understanding of the learning process of their students and should be in a position to facilitate it. Learning is defined as modification of behaviour through practice, training and/or experience. According to researchers and scientist however, the definition of learning depends on the type of learning process used. These theories are behaviorism, social cognitive and constructivism (L. Nagowah & S. Nagowah, 2009). This paper will focus on the theory of constructivism, its applicability in learning, strengths, weaknesses and an exhaustive comparison with other learning processes.
This is a learning theory whose basic idea is that learners should create their own understanding of an issue through interaction with others and in relation to knowledge that is already in existence. According to researchers, constructivism is not so much a theory of learning as a model of acquiring knowledge which can be used to create a learning theory (Richardson, 2003). To fully understand the constructivist theory, the following aspects are discussed.
a) Social Constructivism
This theory suggests that knowledge is constructed by people and its form is determined by the political environment, ideological perceptions, values, exertion of power and an attempt to preserve status, beliefs and economic interests of the people (Richardson, 2003). According to Richardson, an individual’s learning process and understanding of their world is influenced by social factors. This means that the learning process involves accommodating shared social beliefs and ideologies to acquire formal knowledge.
Social constructivism implies that theories and ideas developed by a learner or individual are viable and applicable in the larger social contexts. Social constructivists believe that knowledge is a function of shared reality which develops out of social limitations affecting the learning process of an individual (Karagiorgi & Symeu, 2005). This implies that no learning can occur without interference from social environments surrounding the learner. This means that a learner creates meaning of a situation or a problem based on social interactions and experiences.
b) Psychological Constructivism
This theory suggests that construction of knowledge is based on experiences of an individual and depends on a learner’s prior knowledge (Richardson, 2003). According to Richardson, learners do not depend so much on the experiences and ideologies of a social group but on their personal experiences. The theory goes further to suggest that knowledge developed by an individual from his perspective can be adopted by group’s formal knowledge.
Psychological constructivists believe that realities and experiences are very unique to each individual (Karagiorgi & Symeu, 2005). This means that the process of creating knowledge and the knowledge created by learners should be based on their own experiences without the consideration of experiences from other individuals. To the constructivist, reality is not a function of socio-cultural practices within which a learner resides and social beliefs should therefore not influence the learner’s perspective in solving problems. This suggests that a learner should be motivated by his beliefs, ideologies and experiences to develop skills to cope with a problem.
Behaviorism versus Constructivism
Behaviorism as a learning process ignores the psychological ability of an individual and focuses on the observable actions of an individual (L. Nagowah & S. Nagowah). Adherents to this theory suggest that learning can be measured by simply observing change in behavior of an individual. To them learning process is passive where knowledge is transferred and acquired by repetition of a new behavioral pattern. Behaviorists believe that the right behaviour pattern for learning can be reinforced by reward or punishment. They believe that learning should be a process of transferring knowledge from the teacher to the students who should be able to reproduce the knowledge when need be. The major difference between behaviorism and constructivism is that, constructivism allows student s to come up with their own understanding of a problem and device ways to resolve it. Constructivism encourages creativity while behaviorism encourages repletion of behavior and knowledge acquired.
Cognitive Theory versus Constructivism
Cognitive theory puts emphasis on the psychological activity of an individual in the learning process. The proponents of the theory argue that every task requires a unique and different cognitive process to resolve or understand. They insist that it is important to understand and appreciate the metal processes that enable an individual to acquire and retain knowledge so that the processes can be enhanced. To the cognitive psychologists, learning is an active activity for the learners that require creativity (L. Nagowah & S. Nagowah).
The cognitive theory relates to the role of information processing in learning. This is because the processing aspects such as memory organization and neurological connections form the basis of the cognitive theory. An individual requires cognitive knowledge in order to synthesis information acquired to form meaningful understanding. This theory suggests that learning is acquired at different levels by different individuals depending on their cognitive development. This theory is similar to the behaviorists because it suggests that learning is a process where knowledge is given and absolute. This means that knowledge is passed on from the teacher to the learners. The theory suggests that behavior can be used to deduce the cognitive ability of an individual to process information and apply it in learning (L. Nagowah & S. Nagowah). This theory is different form constructivism because it only seeks to understand the processes of thinking that allows learning to take place. Unlike constructivism, it does not encourage innovation and it believes in the traditional way of learning where the teacher provides information and knowledge to the students.
Constructivism as a learning model has generated a range of mixed feelings and criticism towards learning processes. The proponents support the ideologies and ht e expected outcomes of the model when used in education while those against it base their arguments on the weaknesses of the theory application as discussed below.
Strengths of the Constructivism
a) Active learning
Constructivism places a learner at the centre of the learning process. It fosters motivation of the learner because the students experience the pleasure that comes from solving a problem (Karagiorgi & Symeu, 2005). The model also fosters creativity because it suggests that instructors should design problems that can be solved in different ways and leave the students to struggle through the solving process on their own.
b) Authentic learning
The model fosters authentic learning by offering an opportunity to model problems to fit real life occurrences. This stimulates the learner to own the problems and solve them in their own understanding as if in real life situations (Karagiorgi & Symeu, 2005). Authentic learning motivates the learners to implement knowledge in a genuine way thus developing relevance and meaning to their learning process and knowledge.
Weaknesses of the Model
According to a research done in India, the model of constructivism generates major problems in the education system. The research shows that the model makes it hard to examine the knowledge acquired by learners because its learning process is based on practice and personal experiences. In the particular case of India, the model presented a problem in devising a methodology for written examination (Raina, 2011).
The information formed by learners through constructivism learning is not acceptable at face value. It is must be measured against the acceptable already existing knowledge for its applicability in meaning. This is controversial to the aims of the model and the basis under which it is established. Those against the model argue that it is not logical to take the learners through the process of innovation and creativity only to measure them against already existing knowledge. To them, knowledge is information that has already been tested and approved as applicable and requires passing and assimilation.
The protagonists of the model argue that acquisition of knowledge should be explicit until learners have acquired basic concepts and skills to engage in creative and active inquiry (Gibbons, 2003). Constructivism presents a problem when applied to absolute learning courses such as learning the English language as opposed to learning science. According to research, use of constructivism to teach language or absolute subjects is not applicable. The instructor cannot be able to allow the learners to formulate their own words so that they can understand the language they are learning.
Constructivism is applied in learning with the aim of stimulating learners to be creative in solving problems. However, the model presents controversy in evaluation method of the learning process. According to research, use of contemporary evaluation methods is pointless where the model has been used for learning. When applied in a learning context, the expected outcome of the process should be creativity and enhanced skills. However, the outcome is not always the same because the model largely depends on the social culture of an individual and the basic knowledge they can relate to their experiences. This leaves room for more research to be conducted on the model’s applicability to multicultural learning setup.