Cognitivism and Constructivism
Mary Jorda & Suzanne Campbell
If you have doubts about how learning happens, engage in sustained inquiry: study, ponder, consider alternative possibilities and arrive at your belief grounded in evidence. ~~ John Dewey
Definition of Cognitivism
Cognitivism is a theory which attempts to answer how and why people learn by attributing the process to cognitive activity. This theory followed the behaviorist school of thought. The cognitivists’ quarrel with the behaviorists was that their focus on observable behavior did not account for what was going on in the mind. Click here to learn more
Definition of Constructivism
Constructivism is a learning theory in which each individual has a unique concept of things based on personal experience. These concepts are extremely subjective and very personal. Learning happens when the experiences grow. Click here to learn more.
Foundations and Contributors to Cognitivism
Cognitivism was an attempt to explain what was occurring in the mind during learning, a subject virtually ignored by the previous theories that focused on actions and behaviors of the learner. Actions were deemed valid proof that learning had occurred.
Theorists that developed and advocated cognitivism include the following:
Lewin (1951) developed field theory, which posited that learning is the result of changes in:
cognitive structure, one’s sense of belonging and gain in muscle control.
Gagne (1974) developed information processing theory which identified 8 levels of intellectual skills including:
Signal, stimulus-response, chaining, verbal association, multiple discrimination, concept formation, principle
formation and problem solving.
Bloom (1956) described the domains of learning. He identified three:
cognitive (intellectual), affective (attitudes, values), psychomotor (motor skills)
Anderson(1999) developed a schema of learning. This new theory attempted to describe learning as the storing of
information by the human mind in structures of ideas and meanings (precursor to AI?)
Foundation and Contributors to Constructivism
Constructivism could be found within the teachings of Socrates, who would engage in dialogue with his students and assist them in finding their own answers, usually based upon their own perceptions of the world.
Jean Piaget believed knowledge occurs in stages and grows in complexity over time. His theories have set the foundation for constructivism.
John Dewey claimed education should relate to real-life experience.
Lev Vygotsky: Constructivism is largely based on Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory, which suggests a relationship between learning and the learner’s social development and experiences
Jerome Bruner was influenced by Piaget and focused on the student’s active role in the learning process.
David Ausubel also believed in constructivist principles where there is a relationship between learning and the learner’s existing knowledge and experiences. Contrary to most constructivist views, however, he supported direct instruction as a teaching technique and claimed students should master subject matter, as opposed to learning based upon their potential.
Seymour Papert integrated technology with the constructivist philosophy.
Ernst von Glasersfeld developed a model of radical constructivism, which claims that since all experiences are subjective, knowledge -- and the interpretation of that knowledge -- is also subjective, and thus constructed by the individual. (www.thirteen.org)
Roger Schank dismisses the importance of studying and is opposed to the notion of a national curriculum, Schank advocates teaching towards each child's natural inclination. (www.thirteen.org)
Key Terms Relating to Cognitivism and Constructivism
dialogical activity pertaining to a back-and-forth dialogue
Problem Based Learning (PBL) small groups work together to solve real problems; more open-ended than anchored instruction
Anchored instruction small groups work together to solve real, specific problems; much of the data and resources are already provided for the groups
Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) students solve problems outside of their actual developmental level, but within their level of potential development, with an expert or in collaboration with more advanced peers; this is when learning occurs
cognitive apprenticeship students learn through the help of a teacher, a mentor (i.e. the “expert”)
scaffolding pertaining to how teachers help students through a particular task: the teacher models behavior with the students and helps with the task, then ultimately allows the learners to take over their own learning
inquiry and discovery learning students form their own questions and go through the process of learning the answer on their own by using many resources and strategies
collaborative learning students work together in groups and use each other as resources
multiple intelligences students learn through a variety of ways, and not everyone learns the same way
To compare and contrast these learning theories you might want to read:
Glenzer, H. (2005). Living learning theory through “My Fair Lady”. British Journal of Educational Technology 36(1), p.
available electronically at FAU libraries through EZProxy. Type learning theories, cognitivism or my fair lady into an education search engine in the electronic databases. It’s a good article, which illustrates the concepts and I think we remember “My Fair Lady”.
Based on what you read about Cognitivism and Constructivism, how do they compare? Differ?
Follow the link above to Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory and read about it. This is said to be the foundation of Constructivism. How does it compare and contrast with Constructivism? How does it build on Cognitivism?
Based on what you learned about Social Learning Theory in the last presentation, how does it compare and contrast with Cognitivism and Constructivism?
If society were to adopt a Constructivist philosophy in general, what do you think life would look like? How would it differ from life as we know it today? How would it differ from a Cognivitist society?