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Applying constructivist theory in teaching.

How to apply constructivism learning theory in the teaching

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Constructivism is a leading educational theory which describes how learning happens, premised on the idea that humans create meaning based on their experiences and their ideas. Piaget, a famous constructivist, felt that knowledge cannot simply be given, but must be gained through experiences (1969). Accordingly, an approach with minimal instruction from the teacher is favoured, allowing learners to take responsibility for and play an active role in their learning. Constructivist teaching features a focus on group work and peer learning, which lets learners benefit from one another’s insights as well as the teacher’s, use of interactive activities rather than passive relaying of information, and a strong focus on learner autonomy. The teacher’s role as an ‘expert’ is valued, but they are viewed more as a facilitator of learners’ knowledge and aim to help learners find the answers by guiding them to the right questions, as opposed to simply giving them. This can be achieved using many different techniques which can be incorporated into all subjects, including: use of Socratic questioning, setting learners group tasks such as research projects to work on together and present to the group, engaging in frequent and lively class discussions, taking learners on field trips to relevant places to allow their ideas to develop in a new setting, or introducing film, music or another media to the classroom to provide a new context. The lack of strong instruction from teachers which is prevalent in constructivism is a notion that has its critics: Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2006) argue that ‘there is no body of evidence supporting the technique’ and that if anything, evidence supports the benefit of strong instructional guidance from a tutor (p.83). Despite this, constructivism’s techniques continue to be almost universally viewed as a vital component of current best teaching practice.


Kirschner, P., Sweller, J. and Clark, R.E. (2006). ‘Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential and Inquiry-Based Teaching.’ Educational Psychologist 41.2, pp. 75-86.

Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. (1969). The Psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books, Inc.