Social constructivism is a learning approach based on the ability of learners to construct their knowledge. This knowledge that the learner constructs is all based on their experiences from interactions. The following are some of the fundamental principles of social constructivism. Knowledge is not innate and is not absorbed in a passive state; it is constructed. The central idea behind constructivism states that learning is built by the child, adding new layers of knowledge onto the previously constructed ones (Ghaedi et al., 2020). The current knowledge then influences the following understanding that the learner will build based on the new learning experiences. The second principle of constructivism holds that learning is not a passive process; it is dynamic and active. In the passive perception of learning, the learner is seen as an empty container that needs feeling with knowledge.
Constructivism counters this by stating that the learners will only construct meaning by engaging actively with the world around them. These engagements could be problem-solving in the real world or experiments. A learner may receive information passively but cannot understand it in the same way. Understanding comes from the meaningful interactions that the learner has before receiving new knowledge. The third principle holds that learning takes place socially and is a shared experience that children go through together as they interact with each other. Vygotsky had a belief that the community played an essential role in the making of meaning. According to him, the community and, by extension, the learners’ environment contributes heavily to how and what they think about (Sarita, 2017). This then means that all learning and teaching is the end product of a process of sharing knowledge that is socially constituted. The fourth principle states that knowledge is specific to each learner because they have diverse and distinctive viewpoints based on pre-existing knowledge and social experiences.
This means that learners in a class can go through the same lessons but have different learning experiences and outcomes. This fourth principle on face value seems contradictory to the point about knowledge being socially constructed. The argument is that learners have a personal history of learning, but they can still acquire shared knowledge. It is also worth noting that education being a social process, is subject to cultural influences. These cultures themselves are, however, made up of subcultures. (Misra, 2020). The cultures have bases of knowledge that are dynamic and constantly changing. The implication here is that the knowledge stored by the learner is not a static copy of a type of social template. The fifth and last principle of constructivism states that learning exists and takes place in the mind. The meaning here is that learning only occurs in the mind, which does not have to align with the realities of the real world (Misra, 2020). Leaners are constantly attempting to create a personalized mental model of the real world based on their experiences and perceptions. With each new perception, the learners revise their mental models to new ones that can reflect new information.
Types of Constructivism
Constructivism can be divided into three main categories: cognitive constructivism that is primarily a reflection of Jean Piaget’s work; social constructivism heavily informed by Lev Vygotsky’s work; and radical constructivism. According to Vygotsky, the learners construct knowledge, and that construction is based on existing cognitive structures. This means that the stage of cognitive development determines the learning that takes place. The cognitive approach helps the learners acquire new knowledge based on the existing knowledge (Ghaedi et al., 2020). By so doing, the learner can also adjust to the pre-existing intellectual framework that creates accommodation for the new knowledge. In this category of constructivism, learning is based on collaborative processes, and knowledge is influenced by the interactions the learner has with society and culture.
Lev Vygotsky developed social constructivism, in which he suggested that all the functions in the learner’s development culturally appeared twice. The first appearance was observed on the social level (inner psychological) and the second within the child (intrapsychological). Ernst von Glasersfeld developed radical constructivism, which states that knowledge is not perceived socially but is constructed (Ghaedi et al., 2020). He suggested that learners will build new bits of knowledge based on pre-existing knowledge. Radical constructivism pushes the idea that knowledge that learners create has no connection to their realities and is only used to function within the environment. This implies that knowledge is not discovered; it is invented.
Teaching Methods in Social Constructivism
The social constructivism learning theory puts a lot of emphasis on learner-centered teaching. The teacher’s role is to build an environment that accommodates collaboration in problem-solving. This makes the students active in the learning process, while the teacher in social constructivism learning theory is not an instructor but a facilitator of the learning. The teacher must understand each of the students’ existing conceptions. The teacher can then guide their activities to address these existing conceptions (Fernando & Marikar, 2017). Once this is done, the teacher can then build upon them. A commonly used method of teaching in social constructivism learning theory is scaffolding. In this method, the teacher regularly adjusts their help to match the learner’s performance or struggles (Sarita, 2017). Using this method ensures that each learner’s approach to problem-solving is accommodated.
Examples of scaffolding include hints and cues, an adaptation of activities, and skill modeling. A teacher’s characteristics using the social constructivism learning theory include using interactive and manipulative materials and encouraging students’ autonomy, innovation, and initiative. Use of cognitive terms when framing tasks examples of such terms include “predict,” “analyze,” “classify.” Allowing the responses from the students to determine the direction of the lesson (Sharkey & Gash 2020). Finding out how much the students understand the concepts before introducing your own. The teaching method when using the social constructivism learning theory approach is to facilitate the learner’s constructions. The teacher must also foster cooperation and discussions among the learners since this helps create a social atmosphere. The teacher must strive to ensure that the learners can express themselves freely and offer solutions to problems as they see them.
The social constructivism learning theory is learner-centered and focuses on making the learners active in the learning process. Shared authority between the teacher and learners means that the teacher cedes some control of the lesson. If this is not managed well, it may lead to a chaotic class. While using this approach may lead to a slower pace of syllabus coverage, it ensures the learners better grasp the concepts they are taught. The teacher must understand each learners’ pre-existing learning concepts because this influences how the teacher approaches the lesson. Overall, social constructivism learning theory is a practical teaching theory.
Fernando, S. Y., & Marikar, F. M. (2017). Constructivist teaching/learning theory and participatory teaching methods. Journal of Curriculum and Teaching, 6(1), 110-122.
Ghaedi, B., Gholtash, A., Hashemi, S. A., & Mashinchi, A. A. (2020). The Educational Model of Social Constructivism and Its Impact on Academic Achievement and Critical Thinking. Biannual Journal of Education Experiences, 3(2), 79-102.
Misra, P. K. (2020). Implications of constructivist approaches in the classrooms: The role of the teachers. Asian Journal of Education and Social Studies, 17-25.
Sarita, P. (2017). Constructivism: A new paradigm in teaching and learning. International Journal of Academic Research and Development, 2(4), 183-186.
Sharkey, M., & Gash, H. (2020). Teachers’ constructivist and ethical beliefs. Behavioral Sciences, 10(6), 96.