Actively assimilating knowledge while constructing and interpreting new ideas.


The core of Constructivism is learning by doing. The next time this cat wants to go fishing, he’ll try a different approach.


How do people go beyond their personal experience in order to learn and implement new concepts and ideas?


Constructivism has its roots in the same cognitive psychology that uderlies Social Cognitive Theory. Its two principles are that students do not passively receive knowledge, but rather actively assimilate it, and that students construct new ideas or interpret concepts based upon their current and past knowledge. Because Constructivism has no fixed rules, other than offering an alternative to the traditional, teacher-centered classroom by creating student-centered learning, a number of theoretical variations have developed, including: Generative Learning, Cognitive Apprenticeship, Problem-Based (Inquiry) Learning, Discovery Learning, and Situated Learning.

Regardless of the branch of Constructivism, learning is viewed as a very personal endeavor, whereby internalized concepts, rules, and general principles may be applied in a practical, real-world context. In a constructivist classroom, interactivity through hands-on experiences and practice is at the heart of the curriculum.


Constructivists build on the concept of scaffolding, whereby students constantly use their existing knowledge to help them bridge the gap between known and unknown information. This method allows students to grasp information that may be slightly above their current ability level by using what they know to inform what they need to know.

In scaffolding, there are three categories of skills addressed: skills that a student cannot perform, skills that a student might be able to perform, and skills that a student can perform with assistance. It is critical, therefore, that those who develop curriculum define the skill category and audience for each set of educational materials.

Using Constructivism theory in an online setting, the web page is the teacher and the goal is for visitors to build their understanding by completing interactive lessons. The content developer defines the subject matter and the web site acts as a facilitator that encourages students to discover principles for themselves and to construct knowledge by working to solve realistic problems, often in collaboration with others. For example, a designer might:

  1. Create real-world environments that employ the context in which learning is relevant;
  2. Focus on realistic approaches to solving real-world problems;
  3. Develop a mechanism whereby the web page acts as a coach and analyzer of the strategies used to solve these problems;
  4. Stress conceptual interrelatedness, providing multiple representations or perspectives on the content;
  5. Set instructional goals and objectives that are negotiated and not imposed;
  6. Design evaluation mechanisms that serve as a self-analysis tool;
  7. Provide tools and environments that help learners interpret the multiple perspectives of the world;
  8. Allow the learner to mediate and control the learning experience.



  • Vygotsky, L.S. (1980) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press:
  • McCombs, B.L. & Whisler, J.S. (1997) The Learner-Centered Classroom and School: Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Achievement. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

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