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Definitions and Theorists


  • A learning theory that claims individuals actively construct new knowledge from their experiences rather than acquiring knowledge from outside to within the learner.
  • Knowledge is individually constructed through interactions with the environment and others (cognitive) and is co-constructed through interactions with others (social).
Other labels:
  • Generative learning, embodied cognition, cognitive flexibility theory, postmodern, poststructural curricula, situated cognition
  • The rhizome (A rhizome is a creeping underground stem. If it is broken anywhere, the only effect is that a new connection will be grown
  • Plate of spaghetti
  • Jar full of marbles

These metaphors express an individual's unlimited growth and development through interactions with environment and others; there is no apparent beginning or end (Driscoll, 2005).


As well, the metaphors represent development as being in state of constant change and there is unlimited potential for knowledge construction because there are no fixed points and no particular organization: “every point in it appears to be connected with every other point" (Driscoll, 2005, p. 389).


Key Terms: (Driscoll, 2005)
  • Social negotiation of meaning - Vygotsky: Learners test their own understandings against those of others, notably those of teachers or more advanced peers.
  • Zone of proximal development (ZPD) - Vygotsky: The potential for cognitive development depends on the ZPD which is a level of development attained when children engage insocial behaviour. (also see images below)


  • Reflexivity - Cunningham: The ability of students to be aware of their o wn role in the knowledge construction process. It is different from metacogntion because a critical attitude exists in learners, an attitude that prompts them to be aware of how and what structures create meaning.
"Constructivism has multiple roots in psychology and philosophy of this century" (Perkins, 1991a, p.20 as cited in Driscoll, 2005, p. 386) (both psychology and philosphy)
As you can see in the above concept map, a number of people influenced the development of Constructivism however, the main three and their contributions are listed in the below chart. One claim that united these three is that cognitive development consists of a constant effort to adapt to the environment in terms of assimilation and accommodation. 
Area of research
Focused on the development of mathematical and logical concepts.
The concept of cognitive structure is central to his theory. Cognitive structures are patterns of physical or mental action that underlie specific acts of intelligence and correspond to stages of child development (schemas).
1. Children will provide different explanations of reality at different stages of cognitive development.
2. Cognitive development is facilitated by providing activities or situations that engage learners and require adaptation (i.e., assimilation and accommodation).
3. Learning materials and activities should involve the appropriate level of motor or mental operations for a child of given age; avoid asking students to perform tasks that are beyond their current cognitive capabilities.
4. Use teaching methods that actively involve students and present challenges.
Context of language learning in children. 
Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition.
1. Cognitive development is limited to a certain range at any given age
2. Full cognitive development requires social interaction
Child development research and originated from a conference focused on science and math learning.
Learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current / past knowledge. The learner selects and transforms information, constructs hypotheses, and makes decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so.
1. Instruction must be concerned with experiences and contexts that make the student willing and able to learn (readiness)
2. Instruction must be structured so that it can be easily grasped by the student (spiral organization)
3. Instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation and or fill in the gaps (going beyond the information given).
  Theorists Learning Activity:

 1. Watch the video below of Piaget asking "What is the goal of education?" (length: 0:35)


Jean Piaget

2. Watch humourous video below describing Vygotsky's life and works. (lenght: 3:58) 

Lev Vygotsky

3. The above information and videos were selected to give you a better sense of the influencial works of Piaget and Vygotsky. Piaget is widely recognized as the founding father of Constructivism with his notion that learning is individually constructed however others such as Vygotsky have playe a key role in making this student-centred and active learning theory influencial today. Through the study of these two theorists and the constructivist literature, two camps of constructivism have emerged -- the individual cognitive constructivists and the social constructivists. The below concept map highlights their differences.
4.  The difference most frequently cited between Piaget's and Vygotsky's Constructivism is in the proximal locus of cognitive development.
What other differences do you think exist between the ways that Piaget and Vygotsky describe the learning theory of constructivism?
Useful websites to help you answer this question:

Please post your responses on the "Theorists" thread @ the 512 Symposium discussion in Vista:

Resources and References:
Driscoll. M.P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction (pp. 384-407; Ch. 11 – Constructivism). Toronto, ON: Pearson.
Davydov, V. V. (1995). The influence of L. S. Vygotsky on education theory, research, and practice. Educational Researcher, 24, 12-21.