Constructivism is an age old concept of pedagogy but constructivist learning has recently been defined, studied and implemented in the field of learning. No two learners are exactly the same. Each learner is different, with different orientations and different way of interpreting his/her environment. This difference plays a major role in their learning process. Two people may observe a situation, may have very different perspectives, interpret it in different ways and imbibe completely different learning. This exactly what constructivism is. People build knowledge on their past experiences and these experiences can be varied. Therefore, it is learner centric and we wouldn’t be wrong if we say that it’s very much a concept of andragogy.
Learning process is constant and constructivism is a learning theory that helps the learner develop practical skills. One of the most common area where the constructivist learning theory is implemented is management science. All concepts in management are:
- taught holistically and not in smaller chunks
- taught in relation to other concepts
- case based study material helping learners develop the problem solving ability
- have multiple solutions to a problem so through the process learners encounter new knowledge and new solutions
- have team based learning activities; so learners are a part of a bigger group
All these characteristics also define the theory of constructivism. Management students are also expected to go research or write a dissertation on any chosen topic. This task integrates all the past learning and hence is a good assessment of their skills.
Constructivism and ID
All the characteristics of the constructivist learning approach make it the most effective teaching learning theory. However, it has limited applicability in the present e-learning instructional design scenario. Modern day instruction is designed keeping the learner at the core. Mostly courseware is self-paced and interactive but they lack instructor inputs as is one of the characteristics in constructivism. Secondly, since we are talking about construction of knowledge and problem solving practical skills, it is very difficult to assess through close ended questionnaires. Thirdly, customizing content for each learner according to their learning styles also poses a problem in implementing this learning theory in e-learning.
The best way to apply the constructivist learning theory in e-learning courses is through blended learning. The assessment of knowledge gained from the training course can be assessment by a combination of self paced assessments and instructor led/team discussions. This will also serve the purpose of reinforcing learning objects and will help the learners create new knowledge by sharing in the experiences of fellow learners or the instructor and will retain this created knowledge for a longer duration.
Since constructivism heavily relies on reflection of experiences for creating knowledge, it can be helpful to provide learners with open ended job aid handouts for further reading and reflection. Lastly, a case based approach where learners are given a feel of a real world situation and asked to come up with solutions would be an ideal assessment.
Assessment of learners on an LMS when using these methods is next to impossible reason being difficulty in customization of content. Such assessments will always lack objectivity hence the involvement of a facilitator is mandatory.
Though, constructivism is only a few decades old, it is already the subject of great research potential in educational psychology. It has already been applied in schools and colleges that have discarded the old lecture (one-way) method and adopted a more interactive (two-way) approach towards teaching. Therefore it is only a matter of time when this learning theory will be applicable in elearning with extraordinary results.