Constructivism Theory in  Teaching and Learning Process


        There are several theories that are applied in education such as Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism etc. Many educators especially teachers use the theories in the classroom based on their own roles. Each theory has its own different  function and purpose and also has  a little bit correlation  with each other, for example behaviorism theory. In this theory , the teaching learning process focuses on the students centered not the teacher’s one. It means that, if the teacher applies it in the classroom, it tends to create the passive students. They just absorb the knowledge from their own teachers. While constructivism theory is the response to the behaviorism theory(asiaeuniversity, 106). It means that the role of constructivism theory is in the opposite of behaviorism. The students’ role is to construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. It means that the students construct the meaning of  certain thing by assimilating and accommodating through their own experience. It tends to create the active students. While the constructivist teachers encourage and guide  the students in order to assess the activities  which help  them to get  the understanding . The way the teacher  guide  the students can be conducted through questioning them in order  it can create  the situation in which the students construct the meaning of thing by themselves. Moreover the function  of questioning is to regard  the students as the expert learners. The other function of constructivism theory is it can create  problem solving, if the students  find problem , they can discuss  with other friends to get the solution. That is the point of view  about constructivism theory . The next session will be the description of constructivism through the history, definition, types, principles, implementation in teaching learning process, the characteristics of learning, the characters of learners, strength and weaknesses, differences of constructivism with other theories and the comparison between traditional to the constructivist one.

History of Constructivism

      According to asiaeuniversity, 146 ”Constructivism is a part of cognitive revolution”. Cognitive revolution is the name of an intellectual movement in the 1950s that began with what are known collectively as the cognitive sciences and increasingly deliberated in the late 1960s. The term ”cognitive revolution” began to be used to take advantage of an analysis of scientific revolution in general that was developed by Thomas Kuhn (Royer, 2005 as cited in the asiaeuniversity, 146). The cognitive revolution was the response  to the behaviorism (asiaeuniversity ,106). As we know that , behaviorism was a theory that based on observable changes in behavior. Moreover, behaviorism was the theory in which central attention was in the teacher’s role. It means that the character of the students in the teaching learning process was passive while the teacher was in the opposite. The students just absorbed the information from the teacher rather than constructed the meaning by their own selves. While, constructivism was a theory to learning in which learners were  provided the opportunity to construct  their own sense of what was being  learned  by building  internal connection or relationship among ideas  and facts  being taught( Brich and Tombari, 1997 as cited in asiaeuniversity, 144).  It means  that the character of the students in which the constructivism  theory was applied  was  active. The teacher as the facilitator (give little guidance to the students). So , this is the reason why constructivism is a part of cognitive revolution that it becomes the response  to the behaviorism.

      Constructivism primarily is a synthesis of the ideas  from philosophy, sociology, psychology and education(Lowenthal and Muth, 2008). While according to Kanselaar, 2002 ”Constructivism is not a single concept  but it can involve the following three aspects”. They are epistemological , psychological  and educational beliefs. Constructivism as a set  of epistemological  beliefs that is beliefs about the nature of reality , whether there is an independent reality.  Constructivism as a set  of psychological  beliefs about  learning and cognition (e.g that learning involves constructing one’s own knowledge). Constructivism as a set of educational  beliefs about pedagogy (e.g that one should allow the learners to define  their own learning objective that knowledge emerges  from constructive interaction between the teacher  and the students or between collaborating students).  Based on  the history of constructivism  comes from experts, I can infer that,  in the beginning  constructivism  was derived from some aspects that were  philosophy, sociology, psychology, education and epistemological beliefs. All  of the aspects united into a general  sense of constructivism that  it was  a theory  of learning or making meaning that individuals created their own new understanding  on the basis of an interaction between what they already  know, belief, ideas and knowledge with which they come into contact (Resnick, 1989 as cited in Richardson, 2003).

Definition of Constructivism

        According to Henson , 1996 as cited in asiaeuniversity,143 ” Constructivism is a theory of how learning occurs” . This definition  of constructivism is useful when learning is viewed as important  to the lives  of learners, since they try  to seek their own understanding and insight about something  that they want to know. Learners will seek meaning via questioning of their own knowledge and new discoveries.  Constructivism was also known  as a theory  about how people learn  since they construct  their own  understanding and knowledge  of the world through experiencing thing and reflection in those experiences. For example: when we find  something new, we have to relate  it with our previous  ideas and experience. It can be done through changing what we believe. It means that we try to be active creators of our own  knowledge. To do this, we must  ask questions, explore and assess what we know. From the point of view of constructivism, I can infer  that constructivism is an approach  to learning in which learners are provided the opportunity  to construct  their own sense of what is being learned by building internal connection or relationship  among the ideas and facts being taught(Boris  and Tombari, 1997 as cited in asiaeuniversity, 144). Moreover, Cheek , 1992 in asiaeuniversity,145 also did agree  with  Boris and Tombari’s perception  by giving his  perspective related to constructivism Humans are not passive information receiver. Humans are  active information receivers, they build network  of information with their previous information and they assimilate or accommodate  new knowledge  with the old information in order to build their own understanding of new information”. Constructivism as a theory of learning  emerged from the work of cognitive psychologist such as Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner. With the development  of cultural psychology, the two perspectives become dominant. They are individual and social constructivism. In individual constructivism focuses on the construction of meaning inside the person  while social constructivism focuses  on the construction  of meaning among people.

Types of Constructivism

       As we know that constructivism is a theory of how learners are encouraged to construct  their own knowledge of what is being learned  by building internal  connections or relationship among the ideas  and facts  being taught.

      According to Kanselaar  (2002) , there are two major constructivist perspectives. They are Jean Piaget from Swiss and Lev Vygotsky  from Russia.

1.    Jean Piaget (1896-1980) Cognitive Constructivism as individual perspective

      Piaget is a Swiss psychologist who describes knowledge development from a holistic and cognitive perspective, emphasizing that there are many channels  that are used to construct understanding e.g reading, listening, exploring and experiencing(as retrieved in www.calpro_online.org/eric/docs/brown01_02.pdf)Cognitive constructivism developed as a reaction to behaviorist and information processing theories of learning( Lowenthal  and Muth, 2008). In the  information processing, the learner perceives stimuli, encodes them into  useful information and then stores the information for later use. The learner  is able to modify  previous knowledge or strategies in order to help  with current problem solving and develop more sophisticated knowledge. Moreover, cognitive constructivism conceptualizes learning as the result of constructing based on individual’s experience and prior  knowledge. The development of human intellect proceeds  through adaptation  and organization. Adaptation  is a process of assimilation and accommodation. According to Cynthia,et al ,the term assimilation  occurs in which learners add new knowledge into their existing knowledge framework and accommodation occurs when individuals adjust to new  information. It means that accommodation happens in order to make right way relates to the new information.Piaget also organizes scheme to produce  the adult  mind by using schemata. According  to Brynes, 1996  as cited in asiaeuniversity, 148 ”Schemata or prior knowledge  links organize  our experience more efficiently for processing. This categorization of information facilitates  the processes of remembrance (recall) and comprehension (understanding). All  of which  make problem solving more productive. Overall,Piaget’s cognitive constructivism focuses on how the individual processes and relates new information  to information that already in the mind.

2. Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) Social Cultural Constructivism (socio-constructivist perspective

     Vygotsky is a Russian psychologist  who introduces the socio and cultural influences on learning and emphasizes their role in the construction of knowledge. Vygotsky’s social  constructivism model stresses the importance of learning in context. Constructing  understanding through interaction  with others in the social  environments in which knowledge is to be applied(as retrieved in www.calpro_online.org/eric/docs/brown01_02.pdf).  He assumed that constructivism derives from the theories about  language, thought and their mediation by society. Pure social constructivists believe that learning occurs via the construction  of meaning in social interaction within cultures and through  language(Lowenthal and Muth, 2008). While  in social constructivism classroom is rooted  from Vygotsky’s psychological  theory that knowledge is not transferred from teacher to student but constructed in the students’ mind (asiaeunivesity, 152)

Here are the lists of some characteristics  of social constructivism classrooms

  1. An important classroom goal is construction of collaborative meaning
  2. Teachers closely monitor student’s perspective, thinking and feeling.
  3. The teacher and the students are learning and teaching
  4. Social interaction permeates the classroom
  5. The curriculum and the physical contents of the classroom reflect students’ interest and are infused with their culture.

     From the characteristics of social constructivism, it is important  to know  in social and physical contents not within  an individual’s mind. Social constructivism also emphasizes that teacher and peers contribute to students’ learning.

     There are  4 tools for social  constructivism  to be occurred. They are scaffolding, cognitive apprenticeship, tutoring and cooperative learning(as cited in asiaeuniversity , 153-154)

  1. Scaffolding is a technique that involves changing the level of support for learning. As the students’ competences increase, the teacher provides less guidance. The scaffolding provides support when needed.
  2. Cognitive apprenticeship is a technique in which teachers support learner’s understanding and use of culture’s skills. The term apprenticeship underscores the importance of active learning and highlights the situated nature of learning.
  3. Tutoring is a basic cognitive apprenticeship between teacher and learners. Tutoring can take place between an adult and a child or between a more-skilled child and less-skilled child. Tutoring is an effectively ways to helps student, especially those who are not doing well in their subject.
  4. Cooperative learning is learning based on experience or group discussion. Activities in cooperative learning integrate principles from multiple intelligence theory, mas­tery learning, thinking skills and communication skills. Teachers who try to use this technique in their classroom teach­ing have to focus and posses’ high spirit. Students also learn through example meaning by look up to teacher as an idol.

    After having discussion about individual or cognitive and social cultural constructivism, here, I’d like to show the three primary propositions that characterize constructivism from a cognitive and social viewpoint(Safery and Duffy, 1995 as retrieved in www.calpro_online.org/eric/docs/brown01_02.pdf).

  1. Cognitive occurs as people share their understanding with each and test the degree to which they are compatible.
  2. The goal or purpose of investigation influences what is learned and what experiences the learner draws  upon to construct new understandings.
  3. Knowledge evolves through social negotiation, either independently or in collaborative groups. Alternative views and additional information enable learners to test  the viability of understandings and to build new propositions that are compatible with those understandings.

3.Bruner   (Constructivist theory )

      In this case, Jerome Bruner, one of  the psychologists of constructivism who supports the cognitive constructivism based on Piaget. It means that Bruner also has the same thinking about individual constructivism that it focuses on how the individual process occurs  and it relates new information to information already in the mind. The theoretical framework of Bruner is that learning  is an active process in which  learners construct new ideas or concept based on  their current or past knowledge. Moreover, the focus of Jerome Bruner in cognitivist constructivism is in instruction. So, in this case, the role  of the instructor should try  and encourage  students  to discover principles by themselves. The instructor and the students should engage  in an active activities.

There are three  principles of instruction from Jerome Brunner(as retrieved in http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/constructivist.htm)

  1. Instruction must be concerned with the experience and the contexts that make  the students willing and able to learn (readiness).
  2. Instruction must be structured so that  it can be easily grasped by  the students(spiral organization)
  3. Instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation or fill in the gaps (going beyond the information given)

     Bruner also uses discovery learning in translating cognitive constructivism principles in teaching and learning in the classroom. In this case, the teacher presents examples and the students work with  the examples until  they discover  the interrelationship between the subject structure. Furthermore, Jerome Bruner also emphasizes in the importance of understanding the structure of a subject being studied. Subject structure  refers to the fundamental ideas, relationship, or patterns of the fields that connect all of the essential information(asiaeuniversity, 149). According to Bruner, learning will be more meaningful, useful and memorable for students if they focus on understanding the structure of the subject if they focus on understanding the structure of the subject being studied.

This is the application of Bruner’s teaching technique in the classroom (as cited in asiaeuniversity,149-150)

-Firstly, present examples and non-examples of the concepts that you are teaching

Example: give example that include people, kangaroos, whales, cats, dolphins as examples while non-examples are chicken, fish, penguin

– Secondly, help students see connections among concepts

Examples: ask questions such as these: what do we call things we eat? Food

                 Use diagrams, outlines and summaries to pint out connections

– Thirdly, pose a question and let students try to find the answer

       Example: How could  the human hand be improved?

  What is the relation between the area of one tile and the area of the whole floor?

-Fourthly, encourage students to make intuitive guesses

Example: Instead of giving  a word’s definition, say,” Let’s guess what it might mean by looking at the words around it.”

The Principles of Constructivism

      There are some principles of constructivism that must be paid attention in applying this theory in teaching learning process (as cited in Simon)

1. Knowledge is actively constructed by the individual.

Learning is not a passive activity. The process of learning takes place when individuals attempt to make sense of the world around them

2.Learning is both an individual and a social process.

Knowledge has a social component—individuals’ interactions with their environment are critical and must not be discounted.

3.Learning is a self-regulated process

Individuals learn at different rates due both to their inborn characteristics (i.e., intelligence) and to the external factors that affect them (i.e., environment, including other people).

4. Learning is an organizational process that enables people to make sense of their world.

Experiences or concepts that are encountered for the first time undergo one of two processes: assimilation, subsuming a new idea into an existing schema (organizational group), or accommodation, creating new schema to contain novel information. This organization and reorganization takes place constantly within the human mind.

5.Cognition serves the organization of the experiential world, not the ontological reality. Truth as viability, not validity.

Because all individuals lead different lives, the purpose of learning is to allow people to organize what they have experienced.

 6. Reality represents an interpretation.

Information is sifted by the individual to create beliefs from interpretations of self-referent information and environmental contingencies. The construction of meaning relies on interpretation.

7. Learning is a socially situated activity that is enhanced in meaningful contexts.

Constructivism emphasizes the role of the other in the learning process

8. Language plays an essential role in learning. Thinking takes place in communication.

For the constructivist, language is a synthetic tool that enables individuals to make connections beyond what has been learned in the past because in the formulation of words, sentences, and paragraphs, learners must organize their thoughts into communicable ideas, a process that often results in knowledge

9. Motivation is a key component in learning.

The most basic motivation for learning is an individual’s desire (need?) to make sense of the world.

The Implementation of Constructivism in Teaching and Learning Process

       As a theory of learning, constructivism focuses on the implication of “constructing new knowledge” for learning (Lowenthal and Muth, 20008). In this case, constructivism stresses in the center of learners especially for practice and learning  rather than the teacher. This theory intends to construct the students’ role in teaching learning process in order the students more active in the class rather than be passive that just absorbed the information from the teacher. Moreover through this theory is expected that the learning environment should emphasize  on students directly, the importance of context, authentic problem and task, discovery learning , student’s prior knowledge, group projects and discussion, student’s choice and authentic assessment. There are some applications related of the constructivism approach that can be applied in the classroom in order it can improve the interest of the students in learning as the part of teaching learning process. They are discovery learning, inquiry based learning etc.

Discovery Learning

      Discovery learning is one of the applications of constructivism. According to O’Donnell “Discovery Learning is an instructional method in which the students are free to work in learning environment with little or no guidance”. This assumption from O’Donnell is also supported by Ryan and Muray, 2009) that assume” discovery learning is problem based learning with minimal guidance”. It means that through discovery learning the teacher gives opportunity to students  to explore their selves by learning through the environment with little guidance from the teacher. There are some structures that must be paid attention in applying discovery learning. They are readiness to learn, intuitive and analytical thinking, motivates for learning. These structures must be moved from basic to advanced step.

-Readiness to learn:

Any subject of material can be taught using discovery learning as long as the student can understand the fundamental concept presented.

-Intuitive and Analytical Thinking:

 Analytical thinking involves proceeding one step at a time, identifying the steps and reaching an answer  to the problem or question. With intuitive thinking, the students arrive at an answer with little if any awareness of the process by which it was reached.

-Motivate for Learning

Short and long term goals be established in a way to show the uninterested students why it is beneficial for them to learn and master the material.

The examples of constructivism when it was conducting in the class are when students are given a math problem and asked to come up with a solution on their own, and when the students are given a scientific problem  and allowed to conduct experiments.

 Inquiry Based Learning

        Inquiry based learning also the application of constructivism that can be applied in the classroom. According to Mayer “ particularly inquiry based learning seeks to mediate the learning process and make this kind of cognition an object of classroom instruction”. In inquiry learning the role  of the students are  as scientist or researcher. It intends to give the position to the students as professional scientist who masters certain science on the authentic inquiry activities. The activities  that include in this learning are formulating questions, designing informative investigations, analyzing patterns , drawing inference, accessing evidence in responding the questions, formulating explanations from evidence, connecting explanations to knowledge and communicating and justifying claims and explanation. Moreover, there are 5 steps in conducting inquiry based learning(Mayer)

  1. Engagement with a scientific question, event or phenomena connected with their current knowledge, though at odds with their own ideas which motivates them to learn more.
  2. Exploration of ideas through hands on experiences, formulating and testing hypotheses’, problem solving and explaining observations.
  3. Analysis and interpretation of data, idea synthesis, model building and clarification of concepts and explanations with scientific knowledge sources(including teachers)
  4. Extension of new understanding and abilities and application of learning to new situations(transfer)
  5. Review and Assessment of what they have learned and how they have learned it (metacognition).

The Characteristics of Learning in Constructivism Classroom

     According to Seigel (2004)there are some characteristics of learning in constructivism theory. These characteristics are useful  especially for students in taking the position in the constructivism situation. They are as follows:

  1. Constructed     => the students come to learn situation with already formulated knowledge, ideas and understanding.
  2. Active              => the student is the person who creates new understanding for himself/herself.
  3. Reflective        => the students control their own learning process and they lead the way by reflecting on their experience.
  4. Collaborative   =>the students learn about learning not only from themselves, but also from their peers because they can pick up strategies and methods from one another.
  5. Inquiry Based  => the students  use inquiry methods to ask questions, investigate a topic and use a variety of resources to find solutions and answers.
  6. Evolving          =>when the students have invalid ideas to explain new experiences. These ideas  are temporary steps in the integration of knowledge.

The Characters of Learner in Constructivism Classroom

     According to Can (2007) the other point that we must consider in applying constructivism in classroom is about the characters of the learner itself. In this situation , the teacher must create the character of the learners naturally as follows

Feel responsible for their learning ,Have developed awareness .,Have developed autonomy,
Have developed goals for learning, Have developed initiative, Use strategies ,Accept the complexity of life, Respectful to multiple perspectives and world-views, Open minded, Task oriented, Process oriented, Self-controlling, Realistic, Scientific, Value generator, Holistic, Articulate ,Flexible, Moderate, Humanistic, Innovative, Social
Indulging into the experience, Self-motivated, Self-reflective.

Strength and Weaknesses

Weaknesses=> in constructivism ,situation where conformity is essential divergent thinking and action  may cause problems.

Strength=>  the learner is able to interpret multiple realities, the learner is better able to deal with real life situation. If a learner  can problem solve, they may better apply their existing knowledge to a novel situation.(Schuman,1996 as cited in Mergel, 1998)

The other Strengths of Constructivism are

  1. Children learn more, and enjoy learning more when they are actively involved, rather than passive listeners
  2. Education works best when it concentrates on thinking and understanding, rather than on rote memorization. Constructivism concentrates on learning how to think and understand.
  3. Constructivist learning is transferable. In constructivist classrooms, students create organizing principles that they can take with them to other learning settings
  4. Constructivism gives students ownership of what they learn, since learning is based on students’ questions and explorations, and often the students have a hand in designing the assessments as well.
  5. Students in constructivist classrooms learn to question things and to apply their natural curiosity to the world.
  6. Constructivism promotes social and communication skills by creating a classroom environment that emphasizes collaboration and exchange of ideas.

Differences of Constructivism from other Theories

     The  Differences among Constructivism, Cogntivism and Behaviorism (as cited in Jung and Orey,2008).


It stresses  based on  construction of our own perspective of the world, through individual experiences and schema.

The role of teacher is

(1) To instruct learners on how to construct meaning

(2) To align and design experiences for the learner so that authentic relevant contexts can be experienced. Instructions in constructivism have some characteristics:

(a) An emphasis on the identification of the context in which the skills will be learned and subsequently applied.

(b) An emphasis on learner control and the capability of the learner to manipulate information,

(c) The need for information to be presented in a variety of different ways,

(d) porting the use of problem solving skills that allow learners to go “beyond the information given”

(e) Assessment focused on transfer of knowledge and skills.


It stresses on acquisition of knowledge and internal mental structure.

The role of teacher  in cognitivism is to

1)Understand that individuals bring various learning experiences to the learning situation which can impact experiences to the learning situation which can impact learning outcomes,

(2) Determine the most effective manner in which to organize and structure new information to tap the learners’ previously acquired knowledge, abilities, and experiences, and

(3) Arrange practice with feedback so that the new information is effectively and efficiently assimilated within the learner’s cognitive structure.


It stresses on a new behavioral pattern being repeated until it becomes automatic including the use of instructional cues, practice  and reinforcement.

The role of teacher in behaviorism theory is to

(1) Determine which cues can elicit the desired responses,

(2) Arrange practice situations in which prompts are paired with the target stimuli that initially have no eliciting power but which will be expected to elicit the responses in the natural setting,

(3) Arrange environmental conditions.

The Comparison Between Traditional to the Constructivist One.

      After compare constructivism with behaviorism and cognitivism. The next is the comparison between traditional and constructivist classroom when we compare from curriculum, teacher, students, materials, and assessment(Brooks and Brooks , 1993)


a)      Curriculum begins with the parts of the whole. Emphasize basic skills

b)      Strict adherence to fixed curriculum is highly valued

c)      Materials are primarily textbooks and workbooks

d)     Learning is based on repetition

e)      Teachers disseminate  information to students, students are recipients of knowledge

f)       Teacher’s role is directive, rooted in authority

g)      Assessment is through testing, correct answers

h)      Knowledge is seen as inert

i)        Students work primarily alone


a)      Curriculum emphasizes big concepts, beginning with the whole and expanding  to include the parts.

b)      Pursuit of the student questions and interest is valued

c)      Materials include primary sources of material and manipulative materials

d)     Learning is interactive, building on what the student already knows

e)      Teachers have a dialogue with students, helping students construct their own knowledge

f)       Teacher’s role is interactive, rooted is negotiation

g)      Assessment includes student works, observations and points of view, as well as tests. Process is as important as product

h)      Knowledge is seen as dynamic , ever  changing with our experiences

i)        Students work primarily in groups.


     Constructivism is a theory  of learning in which the learners are provided the opportunity to construct their own sense about  what is being learned  by building the connection through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. This theory is the response to the behaviorism  theory that tends to focus in teachers centered while constructivism  stresses in students’ centered. In constructivism theory, the students are active in the classroom. The role of teacher as the facilitator. The way the teacher guides the students can be conducted through questioning. By giving question, it can create the students to conduct the meaning of thing by themselves. There are two types of constructivism. They are cognitive constructivism and social cultural constructivism. Cognitive constructivism was developed by Piaget. He conceptualizes learning as the result of constructing based on individual’s experience and prior knowledge. While social cultural constructivism was developed by Vygotsky. He assumed that constructing understanding through interaction with others in the social environment in which knowledge is to be applied. Although  there is different assumption between them, but there is similarity that is both  create the learners to construct the meaning of thing by their own sense by building the connection through experiencing.

      The implementation of constructivism theory can be conducted in several  learning such as discovery learning, case based learning, inquiry based learning, problem based learning, and project based learning. Discovery learning is an instructional method in which  the students are free to work in learning environment with little or no guidance from the teacher. Inquiry based learning as the other of application of constructivism theory. It emphasizes  to the role of the students as scientist or researcher  who masters certain science.

         Overall, I can infer that constructivism  theory is a good theory  to create active students by building the connection between what is being learned and reflecting it through experience. The students will be enjoyable in teaching learning process. Moreover, constructivism promotes social and communication skills by creating a classroom environment that emphasizes collaboration and exchange of ideas.


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