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Social constructivism

1 Social Constructivism Vignette
2 What is Social Constructivism?
3 Assumptions of Social Constructivism
4 Intersubjectivity of Social Meanings
5 Social Context for Learning
6 General Perspectives of Social Constructivism on Learning
7 Social Constructivism and Instructional Models
8 Sorting Out Variations on the Terms "Constructionism" and Constructivism"
9 References
10 Bibliography
11 Additional Resources
12 Citation
Social Constructivism
From Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology
Beaumie Kim
The University of Georgia
Review of Social Constructivism
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Social Constructivism Vignette
Vignette By Roy Jackson, Jessica Karp, Ellen Patrick, Amanda Thrower (2006)
Mrs. Smith is a high school English teacher who has struggled for years when it came to teaching Shakespeare
to her students. In the past, students became bored immediately with reading any of the plays aloud in class and
consistently complained that the language was too difficult to understand. Desperate for any degree of
engagement, Mrs. Smith decided to take a social constructivist approach to Shakespeare’s Hamlet with her
Instead of reading the play aloud in class, allowing the students to remain passive and uninvolved with the text,
Mrs. Smith divided the class into five cooperative groups and assigned each group one act of the play. She then
explained that each group was to turn their assigned act into a modern-day puppet show. The groups were to
read, interpret, and translate their act into modern language (they were even encouraged to use common slang
when appropriate.) They were also required to create puppets to represent the characters and ultimately perform
their act for the rest of the class. Each group worked together with Mrs. Smith’s guidance to create a shared
understanding of their assigned act and use that shared understanding as a basis for their construction of the
modern-day puppet show. In the end, they produced a product that was created through a social learning
The class was divided into groups of four. Because each group was comprised of various learners with diverse
interests and backgrounds, each member had something unique to offer in their group’s construction of the
puppet show. One particular group was assigned Act I of Hamlet. They included Henry, who moved from
Louisiana last year after Hurricane Katrina, Suzanne who loves hip-hop music, Nia, who loves to write, and
Juan who enjoys comic books and likes to draw. All four were excited about different aspects of the project but
would have been very uncomfortable trying to understand their assigned act of the play and turn it in to a
modern puppet show on their own.
At the first meeting, the group decided it was best to start by reading and discussing Act I together; Nia offered
her writing skills to the task of making notes about the progression of the plot and the characters’ actions as the
group interacted and constructed meaning out of what they read. Once they felt as though they had a firm
understanding of Act I, they shared their findings and notes with Mrs. Smith who, in turn, provided feedback.
At the next meeting, they moved on to the more creative aspects of the project, where everyone was able to
contribute their own personal skills and talents. The group decided to present their act in a Cajun dialect.
Growing up in New Orleans, Henry was very familiar with the Cajun dialect and culture, so he and Nia joined
forces in writing a script for the puppet show. For background music, they decided hip-hop would fit well with
the Cajun influence; Suzanne agreed to work on finding hip-hop selections that would work well with the story.
Juan gladly volunteered to take on the creation of the puppets. He wanted to use what he had learned about the
characters through the group’s previous interactions and create modern interpretations with a comic book
By the time the product was constructed, each group members mark was on the final outcome, so each had a
sense of ownership. The intersubjectivity the students experienced through this group project allowed them to
extend their understanding of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In addition to completing the part each agreed to do, the
students had to communicate, share and negotiate to create the final product. The students brought their diverse
interests and collaborated to create their finished product. Mrs. Smith’s use of the social constructivist approach
to this lesson proved successful as the students came to a clear and engaged understanding of Hamlet, her
ultimate goal.
What is Social Constructivism?
Social constructivism emphasizes the importance of culture and context in understanding what occurs in society
and constructing knowledge based on this understanding (Derry, 1999; McMahon, 1997). This perspective is
closely associated with many contemporary theories, most notably the developmental theories of Vygotsky and
Bruner, and Bandura's social cognitive theory (Shunk, 2000).
Assumptions of Social Constructivism
Social constructivism is based on specific assumptions about reality, knowledge, and learning. To understand
and apply models of instruction that are rooted in the perspectives of social constructivists, it is important to
know the premises that underlie them.
Reality: Social constructivists believe that reality is constructed through human activity. Members of a society
together invent the properties of the world (Kukla, 2000). For the social constructivist, reality cannot be
discovered: it does not exist prior to its social invention.
Knowledge: To social constructivists, knowledge is also a human product, and is socially and culturally
constructed (Ernest, 1999; Gredler, 1997; Prat & Floden, 1994). Individuals create meaning through their
interactions with each other and with the environment they live in.
Learning: Social constructivists view learning as a social process. It does not take place only within an
individual, nor is it a passive development of behaviors that are shaped by external forces (McMahon, 1997).
Meaningful learning occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities.
Intersubjectivity of Social Meanings
Intersubjectivity is a shared understanding among individuals whose interaction is based on common interests
and assumptions that form the ground for their communication (Rogoff, 1990). Communications and
interactions entail socially agreed-upon ideas of the world and the social patterns and rules of language use
(Ernest, 1999). Construction of social meanings, therefore, involves intersubjectivity among individuals. Social
meanings and knowledge are shaped and evolve through negotiation within the communicating groups (Gredler,
1997; Prawat & Floden, 1994). Any personal meanings shaped through these experiences are affected by the
intersubjectivity of the community to which the people belong.
Intersubjectivity not only provides the grounds for communication but also supports people to extend their
understanding of new information and activities among the group members (Rogoff, 1990; Vygotsky, 1987).
Knowledge is derived from interactions between people and their environments and resides within cultures
(Shunk, 2000; McMahon, 1997). The construction of knowledge is also influenced by the intersubjectivity
formed by cultural and historical factors of the community (Gredler, 1997; Prawat & Floden, 1994). When the
members of the community are aware of their intersubjective meanings, it is easier for them to understand new
information and activities that arise in the community.
This is supposed to be a flash animation. You'll need the flash plugin and a browser that supports it to view it.
Caption: Two people, interacting through communication, help to extend each other's understanding of what makes a
rainbow. The flash graphic above illustrating the intersubjectivity of social meanings was created by Nina Augustin
and Wan-Ting Huang (2002).
Social Context for Learning
Some social constructivists discuss two aspects of social context that largely affect the nature and extent of the
learning (Gredler, 1997; Wertch, 1991):
Historical developments inherited by the learner as a member of a particular culture. Symbol systems, such as
language, logic, and mathematical systems, are learned throughout the learner's life. These symbol systems
dictate how and what is learned.
The nature of the learner's social interaction with knowledgeable members of the society is important. Without
the social interaction with more knowledgeable others, it is impossible to acquire social meaning of important
symbol systems and learn how to use them. Young children develop their thinking abilities by interacting with
General Perspectives of Social Constructivism on Learning
Social constructivists see as crucial both the context in which learning occurs and the social contexts that
learners bring to their learning environment. There are four general perspectives that inform how we could
facilitate the learning within a framework of social constructivism (Gredler, 1997):
Cognitive tools perspective: Cognitive tools perspective focuses on the learning of cognitive skills and
strategies. Students engage in those social learning activities that involve hands-on project-based methods and
utilization of discipline-based cognitive tools (Gredler, 1997; Prawat & Folden, 1994). Together they produce a
product and, as a group, impose meaning on it through the social learning process.
Idea-based social constructivism: Idea-based social constructivism sets education's priority on important
concepts in the various disciplines (e.g. part-whole relations in mathematics, photosynthesis in science, and
point of view in literature, Gredler, 1997, p.59; Prawat, 1995; Prawat & Folden, 1994). These "big ideas"
expand learner vision and become important foundations for learners' thinking and on construction of social
meaning (Gredler, 1997).
Pragmatic or emergent approach: Social constructivists with this perspective assert that the implementation of
social constructivism in class should be emergent as the need arises (Gredler, 1997). Its proponents hold that
knowledge, meaning, and understanding of the world can be addressed in the classroom from both the view of
individual learner and the collective view of the entire class (Cobb, 1995; Gredler, 1997).
Transactional or situated cognitive perspectives: This perspective focuses on the relationship between the
people and their environment. Humans are a part of the constructed environment (including social
relationships); the environment is in turn one of the characteristics that constitutes the individual (Bredo, 1994;
Gredler, 1997). When a mind operates, its owner is interacting with the environment. Therefore, if the
environment and social relationships among group members change, the tasks of each individual also change
(Bredo, 1994; Gredler, 1997). Learning thus should not take place in isolation from the environment.
Social Constructivism and Instructional Models
Instructional models based on the social constructivist perspective stress the need for collaboration among
learners and with practitioners in the society (Lave & Wenger, 1991; McMahon, 1997). Lave and Wenger
(1991) assert that a society’s practical knowledge is situated in relations among practitioners, their practice, and
the social organization and political economy of communities of practice. For this reason, learning should
involve such knowledge and practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Gredler, 1997). Social constructivist approaches
can include reciprocal teaching, peer collaboration, cognitive apprenticeships, problem-based instruction,
webquests, anchored instruction and other methods that involve learning with others (Shunk, 2000).
Sorting Out Variations on the Terms "Constructionism" and
Table by Beth Clark, Jessie Griffin, and Dana Turner (Fall, 2007)
Introductory comments by Gregory Clinton
Several of the important perspectives about learning discussed in this eBook are really in essence
epistemologies – that is, sets of beliefs about the nature of knowledge. What we believe about knowledge
determines a great deal of what we believe about learning; and thus even the loftiest philosophical perspectives
can have practical implications for how we approach teaching and learning.
One difficulty is that often the same or similar terms are used in different ways by different scholars. The table
below presents several variants of the terms “constructivism” and “constructionism.” Four of these are
essentially philosophical perspectives about how we as learners come to know what we know, i.e.,
epistemologies; and one (Papert’s Constructionism) is a theory of learning tied to a particular instructional
strategy. However, all of the terms presented below relate to the belief that learning is “constructed” by learners
(individually or socially) rather than simply being received from an instructor or other source.
Another potential difficulty is that the differences between the perspectives listed below can be very subtle.
Social constructionism and social constructivism, for example, appear to be two different ways to talk about the
same thing. However, constructivism generally allows the possibility that people can derive meaning from
objects in the environment as well as from social interactions; social constructionism denies that deriving
meaning directly from objects is possible (Crotty, 1998).
One important point to note is the distinction between epistemology, a set of beliefs about knowing, and
ontology, a set of beliefs about what exists or what is real. While constructionist or constructivist epistemologies
generally insist that individuals construct their own realities, and no two persons’ realities will be the same, this
does not necessarily mean that those who hold these views believe multiple realities exist. Belief about the
nature of the external world is not the same as belief about knowledge (Crotty, 1998).
Thus being a constructionist or constructivist does not require you to believe that there are multiple versions of
the universe all floating around at the same time. It does mean, however, that each of us has a uniquely
constructed version of reality that we carry around with us in our day-to-day experience as human beings. Two
people looking at something together never actually see the same thing in the same way.
(As stated in this chapter, some constructionists and constructivists state that they believe reality does NOT
exist apart from being socially invented by people. However, usually this may be taken as an epistemological
statement, not an ontological statement. Few individuals would deny, for example, that if mankind were to
someday succeed in self-annihilation, the planet and the rest of the universe would continue to exist apart from
our meaning-making activity. In other words, a radical constructivist might say, "Yes, yes, the earth and the stars
and planets exist; but their existence has no intrinsic meaning. Their existence doesn't count for anything apart
from the meaning people impose upon them. And therefore true knowledge of them - or of any 'reality' - does
NOT exist. Reality is a social construct.")
Sorting Out Variations on the Terms "Constructionism" and Constructivism"
Key Points Practical Implications
(also called simply
· There is no
meaning in the
world until we
construct it.
· We do not find
meaning, we make
· The meaning we
make is affected
by our social
interpretation of
the thing.
· The meaning we
derive for objects
arises in and out of
the interactive
human community.
Even if you bump into a tree, you cannot get meaning directly
from the tree because you have ingrained social interpretations of
the tree. You will assign meaning to the tree based on your social
background and it will be a different meaning from what any other
person will have for the tree.
· A branch or
variant of social
· People create
meaning through
their interactions
with each other
and the objects in
the environment.
If you bump into a tree, you can get meaning directly from the tree
but that meaning is basically combined with social interpretations
of the tree. The meaning you assign to the tree will still be a
different meaning from what any other person will have for the
(epistemology with
specific application
· Social interaction
in development of
· Social learning
· MKO (More
· ZPD –distance
between the actual
development level
as determined by
the independent
Struggling students in a Math class are assigned a peer tutor.
(MKO) The peer tutor helps their partner work through problems
by providing hints and instruction. (Scaffolding) Struggling
students will stop relying on MKO as they work through ZPD
levels. The amount of help from the peer tutor can be gradually
reduced until they are no longer needed or relied on. (fading) The
struggling students have reached the MKO level and no longer are
problem solving
and level of
development as
through problem
solving under
· In ZPD provide
scaffolding –
masters task
remove (fading)
· Social interaction
leads to increased
(epistemology with
specific application
· Knowledge is
· More of a
“theory” on how a
child’s thinking
evolves over time
· Focuses on the
commonality of
learning stages
· Need for
· Detached
At a certain stage of development all children will become aware
of “self”. A mother places a mark on a child’s face without the
child’s knowledge. She then places the child in front of a mirror. If
the child has self awareness, he will reach to his face and touch the
mark. However, if he has not developed self awareness, he will
reach out to the mirror and try to touch the mark. He is unaware
that it is his image in the mirror.
(learning theory
with strong
· Reality is
through human
· Members of a
society together
invent the
properties of the
· People create
meaning through
their interactions
with each other
and the objects in
the environment.
· Learning is a
social process. It
occurs when
people are engaged
in social activities.
A group of students are given a difficult WebQuest Math problem
to work through. By using the different perspectives they have
gained from their different backgrounds, they can help each other
solve the problem more effectively that if they had worked alone.
· Associated with
the work of
Richard Prawat
(also called simply
· Not an
epistemology but
“a theory of
learning and a
strategy for
education” (Kafai
& Resnick, 1996,
p. 1).
· Knowledge is
· Learning to learn
· Focuses on the
variance of
individual and the
· Dynamics of
· Engagement –
Learning occurs
through interaction
and reflection
· Learners can
create meaning by
building artifacts
In the University of Georgia’s Instructional Design &
Development masters program, the Design & Development Tools
class invites students to choose any multimedia development
project they personally find meaningful (within reasonable social
and professional norms). The project is not required to be
instructional in nature. They are then required to reflect on the
design process via readings in design literature and writing an
online design journal; and structures are put into place to promote
interaction about the design process among peers. Finally, finished
artifacts are displayed at the end of each semester in a public
showcase event.
Seymour Papert on Constructivism and (Papert’s) Constructionism:
"The word with the v expresses the theory that knowledge is built by the learner, not supplied by the teacher.
The word with the n expresses the further idea that happens especially felicitously when the learner is
engaged in the construction of something external or at least sharable" (Papert, 1991, p.3).
Bredo, E. (1994). Reconstructing educational psychology: Situated cognition and Deweyian pragmatism.
Educational Psychologist, 29(1), 23-25.
Cobb, P. (1995). Continuing the conversation: A response to Smith. Educational Researcher, 24(6), 25-27.
Cognitive perspectives on peer learning (pp. 197-211). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research: Meaning and perspective in the research process.
London: Sage Publications
Derry, S. J. (1999). A Fish called peer learning: Searching for common themes. In A. M. O'Donnell & A. King
Ernest, P. (March 23, 1999). Social Constructivism as a Philosophy of Mathematics: Radical Constructivism
Gredler, M. E. (1997). Learning and instruction: Theory into practice (3rd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Kafai, Y., & Resnick, M. (1996). Constructionism in practice: Designing, thinking, and learning in a digital
world. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Kukla, A. (2000). Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science. New York: Routledge.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press.
McMahon, M. (1997, December). Social Constructivism and the World Wide Web - A Paradigm for Learning.
Paper presented at the ASCILITE conference. Perth, Australia.
Prawat, R. S. (1995). Misleading Dewey: Reform, projects, and the language game. Educational Research,
24(7), 13-27.
Prawat, R. S., & Floden, R. E. (1994). Philosophical Perspectives on Constructivist Views of Learning.
Educational Psychologist, 29(1), 37-48.
Rehabilitated?, [Internet]. [2001, March 28].
Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in thinking: cognitive development in social context. New York, NY: Oxford
University Press.
Additional Resources
Social Constructivist Theory
Social Constructivism and the World Wide Web - A Paradigm for Learning
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During this period in history, the advancement of technology is developing at a fast pace, and it is becoming more important to every normal person. In particular, the smart phone, which is quickly becoming one of the most frequently used gadgets in ordinary life, is no longer considered a luxury commodity. Because of the COVID-19 epidemic, students are not required to utilise textbooks while studying. Beyond textbooks, there are numerous other media that may be used to advance an individual's education and development. The purpose of this research study is to investigate the effect of social media, namely Blogs, on the vocabulary acquisition of ESL students. A questionnaire was adopted for data collection from 60 people from different universities, and the results were analysed using a descriptive method. Following the responses given by the respondents, it was noticed that a lot of ESL learners believed that using Blogs to improve vocabulary development is beneficial since it raises the degree of involvement in studying. The current research investigates the use of social constructivist theory in the teaching of ESL learners. The purpose of this study report is to demonstrate the statistically significant impact of the use of Blogs on the growth of learners' vocabulary. Finally, the article concluded that, in light of the descriptive study, the social constructivist method is very significant in English language learning, particularly in vocabulary development. The following objectives were established for the study through Descriptive Method of Social Constructivist Theory of Learning Vocabulary: •To explore the relationship between the use of Blogs and an interest in ESL learners' vocabulary knowledge. •To identify the effect of Blogs on the development of English vocabulary among ESL learners by using social constructivist theory. •To examine the effect of using Blogs on students' capacity to improve their vocabulary usage.
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At present, social constructivists agree on little more than the important assumption that knowledge is a social product. Beyond this, there is little agreement about process. Different viewpoints about what it means to negotiate meaning and what the object of that negotiation ought to be (i.e., strategies/skills versus big ideas) reflect different assumptions about learning and the nature of truth. We examine these assumptions by contrasting three underlying world views: mechanistic-information processing, organismic-radical constructivism, and Deweyan contextualism or transactional realism. This third world view, we argue, is most consistent with idea-based social constructivism.
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S So oc ci ia al l C Co on ns st tr ru uc ct ti iv vi is sm m a an nd d t th he e W Wo or rl ld d W Wi id de e W We eb b-A A P Pa ar ra ad di ig gm m f fo or r L Le ea ar rn ni in ng g A Ab bs st tr ra ac ct t The World Wide Web is being seen more and more as an effective and above all inexpensive means of delivering courses in the tertiary education sector. It is important however that financial imperatives to not take precedence over educational goals. In the search for an effective approach to Web learning, an re-examination of learning theory is required. This paper examines the three broad philosophies of Behaviourism, Cognitive Theory, and Constructivism and reviews their potential for delivering tertiary education via the Web. Problems with the Web are identified, such as the abstract textual nature of current Web technology, and the poor interactivity resulting from limited bandwidth. One theory, Social Constructivism, views learning as a process of enculturation brought about through social interaction. This paper proposes a pragmatic approach to the implementation of Social Constructivist approaches. As the Web develops, and environments rich in media and possessing a high level of interactivity become possible, the need for Social Constructivist strategies may be reduced. In the mean time, the potential of the Web as a communications medium rather than a mere content provider must not be ignored.
Two serious misunderstandings of Dewey's pedagogical and philosophical views are discussed. The first, the erroneous assumption that Dewey favored an activity-oriented, child-centered approach to learning, relates to how Dewey thought about the role of experience in knowledge acquisition. The second misunderstanding relates to Dewey's stance on language. Viewing Dewey as an early supporter of the postmodernist linguistic turn in philosophy heralded by Rorty and others (i.e., that all knowledge is essentially linguistic) downplays Dewey's unique ontological solution to the mind/world dilemma. This article focuses on the practical and theoretical consequences that follow from accepting these two erroneous interpretations of Dewey.
The symbol-processing approach to cognition has been the dominant one in both psychology and education. It has only recently been challenged by those advocating a situated approach based on the everyday practices of "just plain folk." This article attempts to clarify this debate by considering the assumptions of each approach with respect to presumed relations between language and reality, mind and body, and individual and society. It also attempts to place the whole debate in context by relating the current situation in which it occurs to the analogous situation faced by Dewey at the beginning of the century. It concludes with some implications for the desirable relation between formal theory and everyday practice.