Do we want to be a constructivist district, part 1

Constructivism in Practical & Historical Context by Brent G. Wilson | February 2010 | Draft chapter for inclusion in Bob Reiser & Jack Dempsey (Editors), Current Trends in Instructional Design and Technology (third edition). Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011.


If you spend time with professional educators – K12 teachers, education professors, or even corporate trainers – you will run into the term constructivism. As its name suggests, constructivism sees learning as a process of constructing or making something. Constructivism says that people learn by making sense out of the world – they make meaning out of what they encounter.


Constructivism is a theory or philosophy of learning “based on the idea that knowledge is constructed by the knower based on mental activity” (Skaalid, no date). It can be defined as “meaning making… rooted in the context of the situation… whereby individuals construct their knowledge of, and give meaning to, the external world” (Babb et al., no date). As an educational philosophy it came to prominence in the early 1990s.Based on writing of that time (Dunlap & Grabinger, 1996; Merrill, 1991; Savery & Duffy, 1996; and Wilson, Teslow & Jouchoux, 1993), the basic precepts are:

  • Learning is an active process of meaning-making gained in and through our experience and interactions with the world
  • Learning opportunities arise as people encounter cognitive conflict, challenge, or puzzlement, and through naturally occurring as well as planned problem solving activities
  • Learning is a social activity involving collaboration, negotiation, and participation in authentic practices of communities
  • Where possible, reflection, assessment, and feedback should be embedded “naturally” within learning activities
  • Learners should take primary responsibility for their learning and “own” the process as far as possible