Building Knowledge One Brick At A Time: Constructivism In eLearning

Constructivist Theory And Learning Design

In the realm of learning theories, constructivism is linked to and developed from cognitivism—shifting the focus from passive absorption to active construction of knowledge. Essentially, constructivism is the theory that learners construct knowledge themselves rather than just passively taking in information. New information is assessed and builds on what they already know or on past experiences and interactions.

Makes sense, right? People don’t change behaviours by listening to a lecture, completing a piece of learning, or watching a video. We only change our outlooks and behaviours when we experience something for ourselves, talk about it, or integrate it with what we already know.

Knowledge is constructed based on individual experiences and hypotheses of our environment, and we test these through social negotiation with others.

Let’s delve into the core principles of this important theory.

Constructing Knowledge And Meaning

Piaget’s exploration of how individuals construct knowledge and meaning laid the foundation for constructivism. Questions about the role of prior knowledge and the influence of social interaction in Learning and Development found their answers in this theory.

Principles Of Constructivism

Constructivism lays down a few essential principles for learning design:

  1. Active and engaging learning. No more monotonous lectures. Constructivism advocates for active learner involvement and steers away from passive information absorption.
  2. Situated learning. Knowledge should find a place in real-world contexts. This is about demonstrating the relevance of learning to the individual’s own life.
  3. Collaborative learning. It’s time to team up! Constructivism emphasises collaboration over isolation for building new knowledge—interacting with others enables us to cement what we have learned.

Facilitators Over Instructors

In the constructivist approach, educators take on the role of facilitators rather than instructors. This encourages an ongoing dialogue with learners, recognising learning as an active and constructive process.

What does this mean for eLearning, then? This means we should design learning programmes which include elements of discussion among peers. Whether in-person or online, we need to provide opportunities for learners to collaboratively solve problems and discover solutions.

So, let’s look at an example of how this could work in practice.

Example: Continuous Improvement Revolution

Consider a scenario where a large training organisation wants to share a small team’s continuous improvement (CI) expertise with its entire staff. The innovative but small team is overwhelmed with requests, and they don’t have enough time to help every other function to improve.

The Solution: Building Blocks Of Knowledge

The company develops an online suite featuring nuggets of CI wisdom accessible to an unlimited number of employees. Each of these building blocks of basic knowledge encourages individuals to apply CI techniques to their work, complemented by real-life stories of CI problem-solving.

At key points in the learning journey, employees could also attend short workshops with the experts in person. These events will spark discussions on applying techniques to real problems, creating memorable “aha” moments and adding cement to the building blocks of knowledge they’ve already built up. Following the workshops, participants can then join an online CI community to continue conversations and collaborative problem-solving.

The Science Behind The Strategy

The short workshops and online CI community foster social interaction and collaboration, which are integral aspects of constructivist learning. Engaging in discussions with experts and peers allows learners to share their perspectives, reflect on their experiences, and co-construct knowledge together. The workshops serve as social events where learners can exchange ideas and collectively develop a deeper understanding of the material.

The workshops encourage learners to reflect on their past attempts at problem-solving, including failures. This reflective process aligns with constructivism’s emphasis on learners actively making meaning out of their experiences. By discussing how certain techniques could have helped in previous situations, learners connect their past experiences with new knowledge, leading to a more comprehensive understanding.

In the world of constructivism, it’s not just about receiving information; it’s about actively constructing knowledge—an incremental process that builds understanding one step at a time.

Implications For Learning Design

We need to design learning programmes which include elements of discussion among peers, whether that is face-to-face or in an online format. We need to give learners opportunities to work on problems and come to their own solutions:

  • To collaborate and understand the importance of the context of their learning.
  • To make connections between their pre-existing knowledge and what they are being taught.
  • To provide opportunities to reflect and mentally engage, as well as hands-on activities and physical experience, too.
  • To find their own motivation for committing to the learner journey.

Here’s to a learning journey marked by engagement, collaboration, and practical application!

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