From Philosophy to Practice

(470-399 B.C.)

Knowledge is only perception.

Knowledge is not a transferable commodity and communication not a conveyance
E. von Glasersfeld (1987)

The world presents itself to us, effectively.
- J. Baudrillard

Which worlds?
- Knowbotics Research

...learning theories or models are rarely developed to a point where they can be more or less operationalized.
Mendelsohn & Dillenbourg (1994)

Constructivism does not claim to have made earth-shaking inventions in the area of education; it merely claims to provide a solid conceptual basis for some of the things that, until now, inspired teachers had to do without theoretical foundation.
E. Von Glasersfeld (1995)

Socrates liked to work with students. His approach essentially consisted of leading them through a series of questions in order to promote critical thinking. On one occasion, the philosopher purportedly led a group of students to a difficult conclusion through his Socratic method. Socrates then pointed out that, since he had reported no facts, the students must have known the conclusion all along.

Socrates is not generally associated with constructivist philosophy. Nonetheless, this anecdote highlights the fact that discussions which link epistemology and learning have been taking place for thousands of years. From the perspective of psychology, epistemology considers the genesis and the nature of knowledge and includes learning (Ernest, 1995). Knowledge, its nature and how we come to know, are essential considerations for constructivists. Von Glasersfeld describes constructivism as a "theory of knowledge with roots in philosophy, psychology and cybernetics" (p.162). In the constructivist perspective, knowledge is constructed by the individual through his interactions with his environment.

How we perceive knowledge and the process of coming to know provides the basis for educational practice. If we believe that learners passively receive information then priority in instruction will be on knowledge transmission. If, on the other hand, we believe that learners actively construct knowledge in their attempts to make sense of their world, then learning will likely emphasize the development of meaning and understanding. Constructivists generally claim that knowledge is not discovered and that the ideas teachers teach do not correspond to an objective reality.

While the preceding paragraphs provide a seemingly simple explanation of constructivism and its relation to educational practice, the pages in this site will illustrate that the link between the philosophy, on one hand, and educational practice, on the other, is quite tenuous. Moving from theory to practice always presents challenges, be it in education or in any other domain. When there are multiple brands of the theory, the task becomes that much more demanding.

Although there are those who will argue that constructivism does not provide a model for implementation, numerous researchers, educators and authors are actively engaged in using constructivist principles to design and implement new learning environments. Technology is increasingly being touted as an optimal medium for the application of constructivist principles to learning. Numerous online environments and technology-based projects are showing that theory can effectively guide educational practice.

The aim of this site is to highlight some of these attempts at integrating constructivist characteristics into the practice of teaching and learning. The site begins with a discussion of constructivist epistemology and learning theory. Following this discussion, a summary of characteristics of constructivist learning and teaching will be presented. The summary of characteristics will be used to compile a constructivist checklist. The checklist will then be applied to five educational projects and environments to observe the way in which constructivist epistemology and theory of learning can be accommodated in educational practice.

Socrates is now online. That is to say that there are various World Wide Web sites that feature his discussions and lectures as reported by Plato. Ironically, his approach led to his downfall since the self-doubt that individuals experienced after conversing with him finally led the Athenian assembly to vote to put him to death. Today, Socrates is not only widely quoted and well known, but his questioning approach is often hailed as an effective teaching technique. Were he present today, he would likely show an interest in constructivism, no doubt recognizing in it some similarities with his own philosophy.

Introduction| Epistemology| Learning Theory| Characteristics| Checklist| Checklist Application| Summary| References|

This site was created by Elizabeth Murphy, Summer, 1997.