Constructivism & Technology/Learning Processes

Chapter 2. How People Learn: The Constructivists’ View


Constructivist Learning Theory has provided us with evidence that students learn the best through hands on "real life" experience grounded in a social context (McMahon, 1997). Piaget (1973) studied the idea that in opposite relation to passive learning, constructivst must constantly create these learning experiences creatively using the most innovative techniques in a give time period. Several different learning styles such as Visual-Auditory-Kinesthic and Multiple Intelligences have given us vehicles to outline creative ways in which students learn and provide us with opportunities to guide classroom instruction to meet all learners (Hyslop-Margison, 2004). One of the ways we can do this is through technology, although we still have not used this valuable resource to its full poetential (Ginsberg & McCormick, 1998).

Learning TheoryEdit

In education, learning is commonly defined as a process that combines “cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences and experiences for acquiring, enhancing, or making changes in one's knowledge, skills, values, and world views" ("Learning Theory", 2009). While learning focuses on the event of learning itself, a learning theory is the attempt to establish how learning occurs. Learning theories typically consist of two main components, learner vocabulary and theoretical frameworks for decoding learning ("Learning Theory", 2009). In regards to learning theories, and the frameworks included, our focus is on the Constructivist Learning Theory. The Constructivist Learning Theory is a learning theory that is identified as a process of learning in which knowledge is acquired by experiences.

The Role of Thinking & SharingEdit

In the Constructivist Learning Theory, or framework, thinking and sharing hold a significant role. According to Professor George E. Hein, thinking is listed first in importance in his hierarchy of Constructivism and labeled, "focus on the learner in thinking about learning" (Hein, G.E. 1996). He was referencing thinking as the basis of the process of learning - as something that must be tapped before learning can actually occur - the learner must be engaged in the very though of learning. Sharing, as defined by Mark McMahon (1997) says that it is, "meaningful learning occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities". McMahon (1997) concurs that learning is a "social process." He moves on to say that, "learning is not a process that only takes place inside our minds, nor is it a passive development of our behaviours that is shaped by external forces and that meaningful learning occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities," (McMahon, 1997). Although thinking and sharing are a large part of Constructivism, there are other factors that also contribute to Constructivism.

Most theorists agree that Constructivism is made up of phases. There are a variety of models that are applicable. According to Gagnon and Collay, the elements they have comprised into their model entitled the Constructive Learning Design are "Situation, Groupings, Bridge, Questions, Exhibit, and Reflections" (Gagnon & Collay, n.d.). The first part of the Constructive Learning Design is "Situations." "Situation" refers to what the teacher initially prepares for the student, and the meaning that the student will be expected to construct from the initial setup. The element of "Groupings" has two categories: how students will be grouped and how materials will be distributed and best utilized. Third part is "Bridge." This step determines the prior knowledge of the learner and what additional information they need to make connections from the known to the unknown. The "Questions" step is designed to use throughout all of the elements of the Constructive Learning Design. The questions are intended to guide instruction, prompt learning, to enhance reflection, and to continue learning. The fifth stage is "Exhibit," which indicates the need for the students to produce a physical representation of their learning. The last part of the Constructive Learning Design is "Reflections." Learners are expected to reflect on their learning with their teacher and peers. While all of these elements vary in their contribution to the Constructive Learning Model, all of them funnel back to the two fundamental points previously mentioned - thinking and sharing, which is why thinking and sharing are so significant to Constructivism (Gagnon & Collay, n.d.).

Creativity, Inventiveness, InnovationEdit

Creativity, inventiveness, and innovation all play a role in Constructivism. In a constructivist world, ideally, according to Jean Piaget, “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). Creativity is a facet in Constructivism, in that constructivists frequently view conventional pedagogy as passive teaching, because learners are furnished with previously created materials, such as textbooks, which limits the amount of creativity learners are able to contribute themselves (Levine, 2005).

Constructivists desire learners to be creative, original in their composition, with the encouragement of self-derived rules and norms for their creativity, thus leading to inventiveness. Constructivists also desire learners to demonstrate their creativity through outlets such as clubs and service projects. Constructivists favor using inventive ways of self-exploration in learning. Students are involved in drawing their own conclusions by means of creative experimentation. The constructionist teacher becomes a facilitator of learning in the classroom and instead of teaching "at" students, they assist learners with understanding with a hands-on approach ("Constructionism", 2008).

Technology is an innovative tool that allows instructors to operate with greater productively as well as extending additional interesting and effective lessons and classroom activities. Technology enables students to interact with and explore the world, bringing a wealth of information and experiences to learners that would normally be impossible without leaving the classroom. Technology is also an innovative way to strengthen learner creativity and to encourage self-direction. It also aids students in developing know-how that will prepare them as responsible citizens on a nation and global respect (Hyslop-Margison, 2004).

Learning StylesEdit

Two of the many learning styles identified are Visual-Auditory-Kinesthtic and Multiple Intelligences. There are two different versions of the Visual-Auditory-Kinesthic Model. The Visual-Auditory-Kinesthic (Modality Preference) Model, according to Willis 1999 (as cited in Miller, 2001), is based on the way students learn using either sight, sound, or body movement. Learners have a preference of the three senses that better assists them in processing information (Miller, p. 2). Two different studies in Miller's (2001) article found that a higher percentage of learners favor kinesthic learning. The Modality Strengths Model determines which of the three senses are stronger within a learner (Miller, p. 3). Studies conducted in the late 1970's that have tested the Modality Strengths Model show that students have greater strengths in either visual, auditory, or a mixture of both (Miller, p. 4). Wilson (1998) noted that knowing the strengths of a learner are more beneficial that know their preference (Miller, p. 3). All debates aside, testing is available to find which sensory facet is either stronger or a preference. Although the models may differ on what strength is most beneficial for students, studying Visual-Auditory-Kinesthic Models helped researchers understand that students need to be active participants in learning within a stimulating environment that fits their individual needs (Miller, 2001).

Howard Gardner developed Multiple Intelligence Theory in 1983 to meet the needs of all learners (Abdallah, 2008). Early on, I.Q. tests were the big determinites to figure out intelligence (Abdallah, p. 25). Both Gardner (1999) and Hoerr (2000), noticed that these tests only assessed students academic ability (Abdallah, p. 25). Gardner wanted to extend the idea of "being smart" past book learning and recognized that different people had "intelligence" in different areas (Abdallah, 2008). Gardener recognized that learners, as individuals, were just as influenced as much by the outside world and their own particular situations as they were textbook learning (Abdallah, 2008). While traditionally, academia has tested for logical and verbal linguistic, Gardener expanded the range of intelligence to include: verbal-lingusistic, logical/matmatical, intrapersonal/introspective, interpersonal intelligence, bodily/kinesthetic, visual/spatial, music/rhymic intelligence (Abdallah, 2008). The benefit of Gardener's work in education today has been for educators to help a greater number of students succeed while providing a more engaging atmosphere (Abdallah, 2008).

While it is a teacher's choice to employ a variety of teaching styles to meet the learning styles of the students, not all teachers follow the same path. The results of Ginsberg and McCormick's (1998) study suggested that most schools do not use computers in particularly innovative ways that would apply to different learning styles. The effective schools in the study tended to have slightly better and more frequent use, but it was not a significant difference. Ginsberg and McCormick found that the potential of the computer for differentiated learning was, for the most part, not being realized. They were surprised by the lack of concern over instructional issues because it signified to them that teachers are not trained enough to be aware of the issues (Hunter, 2003). In another study by Nigel Ford and Sherry Chin found that teachers that individually matched learning styles to students saw a significant increase in performance (Ford & Chen, 2003). In a third study, differentiation was the focus. This particular study by Danzi et al. published in April 2008 explained the challenges that face teachers today. He explained how many teachers have a wide range of abilities in their classroom and are expected to meet all needs in the face of standardized testing and, in some cases, with very little support from school districts (Danzi et al. p. 30-31). Students who are not having their needs meet in the classroom become unmotivated and disinterested in learning which cause problems in the classroom environment and for the instructor (Danzi et al., 2008). Differentiation seems to assist in combating some of these problems and create an atmosphere where learners of all types have their needs meet (Danzi, p. iii).


Constructivist Learning Theory has brought the issue of active, individual learning to the forefront of educational research. According to Constructivist, treating all students the same has inhibited true learning. Treating students as individuals and allowing them to create situations that are meaningful to their particular style of learning will increase student motivation and allow each learner to gain information and experience that is meaningful to them (Danzi et al. (2008); McMahon 1997). Innovative resources like technology can be used by educators to not only challenge students, but themselves (Hyslop-Margison, 2004). Using Constructivist Learning theory will help educators to become more creative in their teaching and allow students to take a more social and active approach toward learning.


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Danzi, J., Reul, K., Smith, R. (2008). Improving Student Motivation in Mixed Ability Classrooms Using Differentiated Instruction. [On-line Submission]. Retrieved on February 17, 2009 from ERIC database.

Ford, N. & Chen, S.Y. (2001). Matching/mismatching revisited: am empirical study of learning and teaching styles. [Electronic version]. British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol 32, No 1, 5-22.

Gagnon, G.W. & Collay, M. (n.d.). Constructivis Learning Design. Retrieved Mar. 2, 2009 from

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Ginsberg, R. & McCormick, V. (1998). Computer use in effective schools. Journal of Staff Development. Vol. 19 No.1, pp. 22–5.

Hein, G.E. (1996). Constructivist Learning Theory. Retrieved February 27, 2009, from Institute for Inquiry. Website:

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Chapter QuizEdit

Constructivism & Technology/Learning Processes/Section 2 1. What is the difference between passive and creative learning according to constructivist theory? Define the terms passive and creative, then give examples of each method. Explain which type of learning is more beneficial for students.

Constructivism & Technology/Learning Processes/Differentiation 2. Describe two of the challenges teachers face today when trying to design lesson to meet the needs of a variety of learners. Give two examples of ways that you have met those same challenges or could meet those challenges in your classroom.

3. According to Gagnon and Collay's "Constructivist Learning Design" the phases of constructivist learning are:

    • A. Listen, Learn, Design, Assess, Reflect, and Respond
    • B. Create, Design, Lecture, Learn, Reflect, and Grade
    • C. Play, Absorb, Design, Create, Assess, Peer Review, and Reflect
    • D. Situation, Groupings, Bridge, Questions, Exhibit, and Reflections

4. Learning occurs in a social environment.

    • A. True
    • B. False

5. Which of the following is not a style of learning:

    • A. Multiple Intelligences
    • B. Extra-Sensory Visual
    • C. Audio-Visual-Kinesthtic

6. Which of the following is true about using technology in a constructivist classroom:

    • A. It helps instructors to be more productive.
    • B. It helps students become more self-directed in their learning.
    • C. It creates global experiences for students.
    • D. All of the above.
    • E. Only A and B