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The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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This theory of learning gained much popularity in the 1990s, particularly with the advent of elearning. It is a view of learning that places the focus on individual learners who constructs their own knowledge through activity. Jonassen (1991) describes it thus:

Constructivism … claims that reality is constructed by the knower based upon mental activity. Humans are perceivers and interpreters who construct their own reality through engaging in those mental activities … What the mind produces are mental models that explain to the knower what he or she has perceived … We all conceive of the external reality somewhat differently, based on our unique set of experiences with the world.

In practice this has been realised as courses which often have a strong group, discursive and reflective component, with the emphasis on individuals to develop their own interpretations, with the educator in less of a teacher role and acting more as a facilitator. Given that it has a loose definition, it is hard to pin down a constructivist approach exactly. Mayer (2004) suggests that such discovery-based approaches are less effective than guided ones, arguing that the ‘debate about discovery has been replayed many times in education but each time, the evidence has favoured a guided approach to learning’. It could be argued that with everyone able to publish content in a Web 2.0 world, the ‘dangers’ inherent in constructivism become more pronounced, as the proliferation of conspiracy theories might attest. However, given that this is the environment everyone has to operate within, the ability to construct appropriate and rigorous knowledge from a range of sources is even more relevant. When Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2006) claim, with some justification, that ‘the epistemology of a discipline should not be confused with a pedagogy for teaching/learning it’ that only highlights that the epistemology of a discipline is now being constructed by all, so learning how to participate in this is as significant as learning the subject matter of the discipline itself.