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Constructivism 101

An overview of constructivism and its implications




Key researchers

Connection to learning

  • In Constructivism, learning is identified as an active, constructive process, in which new information is linked to prior knowledge.

  • Zone of Proximal Development: Social constructionist concept, acc. to which optimal learning takes place when the learner is presented with challenging learning tasks that push his abilities and get him to seek assistance from others without evoking frustration.

  • Scaffolding: to provide the learner with active and purposeful support, which is then gradually removed as his abilities grow.

Example scenario

Take a digital quiz targeting ELL learners: Imagine the quiz contains several slides, featuring texts, audio files and video clips in English. Each of these slides comes with an exercise, such as questions, gap-fills or sequencing. Each of the exercises aims to evaluate the ability to comprehend English, and to use this comprehension to create appropriate responses.

As a scaffolding strategy, learners are provided with the opportunity to view the quiz before attempting to complete it. After an initial viewing, learners have the opportunity to ask their instructor for additional support in a short Q&A session.

The responses are graded by percentage, colours and points, and the observed evaluation result is shared with a fellow learner as well as the instructor to affect learning behaviour. As a social contructivist strategy, learners are provided with an initial time for self-reflection upon completion. They are then paired with a peer to discuss their results and refer back to each exercise to question, justify and correct their answers. By doing so, learners will be able to seek peer assistance and share prior knowledge based on their background, perspective and perception of the learning content at hand.

The grading options represent the stimulus for learning: A positive evaluation result in terms of percentage, points and colour will lead to praise for a positive learning outcome. It will mean the learner has reached the established learning goal, and is considered to be on track with his learning efforts. This data is used to generate a unique learning path to keep the learner in a Zone of Proximal Development: In the next quiz, the learner will automatically be presented with more challenging excercises to match his skills. These exercises will offer questions with an increased number of answers, gap-fill with blank gaps (instead of pre-selected answers) and longer text sequences than available in the previous quiz.

A negative evaluation result in the same terms will lead to punishment for a negative learning outcome. It will lead for the quiz to be re-assigned to the learner for completion. The learner is not considered to be on track with his learning efforts until the quiz is completed with a satisfying result. This data is used to generate a unique learning path to keep the learner in a Zone of Proximal Development: To match his skills, additional scaffolding in the form of a glossary, a reading guide, a gap-fill with a limited number of pre-selected answers and shorter text sequences will be available to the learner for the second completion of the quiz.

Additional resources

Martin G. Brooks. (November 1999). The Courage to be Constructivist. Retrieved June 8, 2019 from 

Instructional Design Org. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2019, from