Constructivist and Social Learning Theory Discussion

This week in as our class project we have been looking two of the learning theory’s called Constuctivism an Social Learning Theory.

Constructivist theory considers the interaction of people and situations in the acquisition and refinement of skills and knowledge (Cobb&Bowers1999)

“Constructivism is a theory that equtes learning with creating meaning from experience. (Ertmer & Newby, 1993)

Constructivism seems to start with the debate about nature of knowledge and how much of it is related to social relations versus pure science. Different perspectives on that subject lead to an extreme called Radical Social Constructivism which held that knowledge is entirely constructed out of social relations.  Now in the study of learning styles the focus is less on how knowledge is acquired, but instead, how it is “constructed” by virtue of the learners personal experiences and interpretations.

Our text book “Learning Theories and Instruction”, refutes the idea of Constructivism as a “Theory” because theories allow for a hypothesis to be generated and tested. While Constructivists argue that no statement can be assumed as true, but rather should be viewed with reasonable doubt. Can I get an Amen here?

As I understand it, constructivism is about how learners create their own learning? While not meeting the rigors of testing, the hypothesis has persisted and generated many other interesting lines of study.

As to the difference between Constructivist Theory and Social Learning Theory the only debate is in the degree of understanding the learning process and seems more of a development along the same lines of research instead of a difference in the assumption.

One of the giants in research on Learning Theory was Lev Vygotsky. He was born in 1896, in Russia. He studied psychology, medicine, law, and history at Moscow University before becoming a teacher in his hometown of Gomel. He believed that the influence of one’s social surroundings was imperative to learning and the development of thought. According to Vygotsky, an individual’s community played a major role in making meaning out of one’s life.

A significant contribution of Vygotsky’s to the study of leaning was his concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD, simply put, is the difference between what an individual can do on his or her own, and what he or she can do with assistance or guidance from a more knowledgeable other. Vygotsky believed that any task given to a student that lies outside of his or her ZPD would not result in optimal learning. Tasks that could be accomplished alone (that are too easy) are not optimal because the student is not being stretched to reach farther to gain new knowledge or skills. Tasks that are too difficult are not optimal because a student needs to experience some success in order to learn. This quote was taken from our class resources in a timeline that honors the leaders in Academic study on the subject of how people learn.

Vygotsky argued that all tasks given to students should fall within the ZPD. In other words, they should be sufficiently challenging so that, with the guidance of an instructor, the student will be propelled to greater levels of achievement.

Although Vygotsky was primarily doing his research in the area of childrens psycology, the ZPD theory makes a great deal of sense in the Adult Learning process as well. I will be doing more research this week in that area and will add it to my blog later this week.

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