Our understanding of how people learn is ever-growing and changing. Likewise, the way that we process what we learn is an ongoing process—a constant update to our view of the world.

Few learning theories better embody this concept than constructivism. One of the most influential learning theories today, it has been used in classrooms and other learning environments around the world for decades, and it continues to be a powerful tool for teachers and learners alike.

Constructivism in education is an approach that focuses on allowing students to construct their own understanding of a subject by actively engaging with the material presented to them.

This theory emphasizes learner-centric approaches where the student takes ownership of their knowledge and experiences as they progress through a course or program. It encourages exploration, experimentation, collaboration, critical thinking, and reflection—all essential components of effective education systems today. 

This article will leave you with a better understanding of constructivism as well as a handful of methods you can use to implement this learning theory in your learning management system.

What is constructivist learning theory?

The constructivist learning theory refers to the method of learning that allows learners to “construct” their knowledge and skills through meaningful interactions and empowers them through their own self-directed learning.

This educational theory leans in to the idea that each individual learner develops their own understanding through experience and reflection. Rather than memorizing facts from a teacher or external source, learners actively construct meaning for themselves.

At the core of constructivism is discovery—a crucial aspect of the learning process.

Learners take new information and internalize it, integrating it with their prior knowledge and experiences. The constructivist theory of learning emphasizes the importance of social interaction in the learning process, as learners absorb information in two ways:

Assimilation: Learners take in information from their environment and integrate it into what they already know.

Accommodation: Learners adjust their existing understanding to incorporate new knowledge or experiences. 

These two methods of learning are used either interchangeably or simultaneously by all learners to better comprehend their environment and those in it. 

Principles of constructivism

The principles of constructivist learning theory revolve around facilitating meaningful learning. They are:

1. Learners construct meaning. Learning is an active process where students build upon their existing knowledge to make sense of new information. Through constructivism, learners formulate and modify their opinions regularly.

2. Learning is inherently social. Social interaction plays an essential role in helping learners understand, evaluate, and internalize ideas and concepts. Learners are far more likely to encounter new information when they interact with others and their environment.

3. Knowledge is situated. Meaningful learning takes place when knowledge can be applied to real-world or relevant contexts. You don’t just learn for the sake of learning—your education is meant to assist you.

4. Reflection plays a key role. Constructivism also stresses the importance of reflecting on one’s learning process and understanding. Through reflection, learners can assess their current level of knowledge and identify areas where they need to improve or gain further insight. 

5. Mistakes are part of the process. Making mistakes is an important aspect of learning, as it allows for opportunities for growth and development. Experimentation with different strategies often leads to successful outcomes later on down the line.

These aspects make up a learning theory that leaves learners with their own evolving paradigm with which to process future information.

3 main types of constructivism

There are three main types of constructivism that have been identified, each having a significant (and slightly altered) impact on the way learners interact with their environment. 

1. Social constructivism

This type of constructivism emphasizes the importance of social interaction in learning. It suggests that learners understand and internalize new concepts and ideas through collaboration, dialogue, and discourse with other people. 

2. Cognitive constructivism

This type of constructivism focuses on the individual learner’s ability to form meaning from their experiences. It views learning as an active process where knowledge is constructed by each individual through reflection, exploration, experimentation, problem-solving, and critical thinking. 

Note: Constructivism vs. Cognitivism

Cognitive constructivism should not be confused with cognitivism—another important learning theory. While similar, the difference in cognitivism vs constructivism has to do with the theory’s approach.

Cognitivism explains the internal, psychological processes that occur when information is absorbed. By contrast, constructivism explores the social and collaborative aspects of learning.

3. Radical constructivism

This type of constructivism stresses the idea that knowledge is subjective and personal. Knowledge cannot be shared or transferred between individuals because their unique perspective will cause them to interpret information differently.

Using constructivist learning theory in your employee training programs

Constructivist learning theory has been used in a variety of educational settings, such as classrooms, museums, libraries, and online environments. However, it can also be used to improve employee training programs in a number of ways. Here are some constructivism examples being used in the workplace:

1. Break down traditional learning models. Traditional learning models rely heavily on lectures and memorization. However, constructivism encourages experiential learning, which encourages learners to actively engage with the material presented to them. Provide learners with opportunities to experiment and explore the material through projects, simulations, or other activities.

2. Provide feedback. Constructivism emphasizes the importance of reflection and feedback. Make sure to create a learning environment where learners feel comfortable providing feedback on their own experiences as well as offering constructive criticism or suggestions to their peers.

3. Encourage collaboration. As mentioned earlier, constructivist learning theory emphasizes the importance of social interaction in the learning process. Encourage learners to work together and share their experiences in order to better comprehend the material.

4. Facilitate meaningful conversations. Constructivism is all about making meaningful connections between ideas. Encourage conversations between learners and instructors that go beyond memorization and focus on discussing and exploring the material.

As you create your employee training program, remember that mistakes are part of the learning process. Don’t be afraid to try new approaches in order to create the most effective learning environment for your employees.

Criticisms of constructivism

While constructivism has its merits, it is not without its criticisms.

1. Subjective truth

One major criticism of this learning theory is that it can be difficult to assess learner comprehension since there aren’t inherently right or wrong answers in a constructivist approach. Incorporating incorrect information into your understanding of a topic is more than a puzzle missing a piece—you’re more likely to miss future pieces, too.

2. Constant attention

Additionally, constructivism is often a self-directed method of learning but demands a great deal from mentors. Constructivism requires educators to remain attentive and provide learners with guidance complementary to their individual needs. However, this can be especially difficult (and time-consuming) if there are multiple learners involved.

3. Culturally biased

Some have also argued that constructivism does not take into account cultural or social differences between learners, and it can often be biased towards one group or another. The theory doesn’t offer an efficient way of teaching large groups at once, which increases the likelihood of unequal outcomes.

Constructivism’s Role in Shaping Future Training

Constructivism is an essential component of modern training, providing a framework within which learners can explore new concepts in a meaningful way.

Through exploration, experimentation, problem-solving and collaboration, learners are able to construct their own understanding of a subject, and find solutions that work best for them. 

Although it has its critics, constructivism remains a powerful tool for teachers and learners alike—one that is ever-evolving as our understanding of learning grows.

By understanding how this learning theory works and how it can be applied effectively in your organization’s training program, you can create an environment that fosters growth and development among your employees.