Constructivism and teaching: Reflections on classroom learning

Constructivism and teaching: Reflections on classroom learning

Knowing a lot is not the same as being smart. Intelligence is not only information, but also judgment to handle it. Carl Sagan

The human right to education cannot be materialized simply by ensuring that children attend school; they must also learn while they are there. The benefits of education for national development, individual prosperity, health and social stability are well recognized, but for these benefits to increase, children in school must be learning.


  • 1 Inequities in education worldwide
  • 2 The importance of quality in education
  • 3 Learning, a multifactorial behavior
  • 4 Learning a behavior with multiple meanings
  • 5 The types of learning
  • 6 What is meaningful learning?
  • 7 Main postulates of David Ausubel's Theory
  • 8 Recommendations

Inequities in education worldwide

According to estimates from the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report, at least 250 million children of primary age attending primary education around the world do not know how to read, write or count well enough to reach the minimum learning standards, this also includes to those children who have been in school for at least four years (UNESCO, 2013). It is important that learning for children and young people is recognized as essential for the development of human beings.

Not all children have access to formal education, especially in third world countries Most young children learn in unofficial contexts. Learning for these occurs at home and in the community through interactions with close people; parents, siblings and other family members.

In Mexico, the Ministry of Public Education in the 2016 Curriculum Reform states: “Modern cognitive science seems to confirm that, more than the amount of knowledge, the quality of knowledge is of radical importance that builds the student and the understanding that develops. The knowledge is multifaceted. When knowledge is structured in a fragmented and disjointed way, the learner may know a lot about one area, but if he cannot mobilize his knowledge to other areas, he will be unable to use that knowledge to solve relevant real-life problems. In the field of research on learning, it is considered that this is achieved when the learner is able to put into play what they have learned in other contexts. The learning that is transferred - that adapts to the circumstances - is superior to the repetitive work that allows certain levels of execution, but that is not enough to give rise to deep understanding ”(SEP, 2016, p. 40).

The importance of quality in education

Children and young people should receive a true quality education that allows them to be freer, autonomous, responsible, competitive and integral people, and so that they can, with the support of the knowledge, skills and values ​​provided by the school, have a broader perspective on life and build a future to the size of their expectations and abilities, their efforts and aspirations.

It can be inferred from this that it breaks the old learning paradigms in which to repeat what has been learnedrepetitive learning) is not enough, and that is a breakthrough to come from an official position. Ausubel himself points out (1989):

It is necessary to provide the student with the necessary knowledge, so that with them they can build their own concepts; so that in the future he will be able to solve obstacles that arise throughout his life.

Learning, a multifactorial behavior

In the complexity of this topic, there are different ways in which learning can be described:

  • For example, just to name a few types, there is:…
    • Procedural and Memorization, of Cognitive Psychology.
    • Unconscious, of Psychoanalysis.
    • Visual and related to all sense organs, of the Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP).
    • Insigth, of the Gestal, through this action, the subject captures, internalizes and understands a truth that had not been revealed.
    • Active learning: Students learn best when they actively build their own knowledge, rather than passively receiving information from the teacher.
    • Cooperative learning: Students learn best when they communicate about problem solving in groups, rather than when they work individually.

All these endowed with their own truth and focus. We can say that they go from common sense in how we learn each one of us, to those who are grounded in pedagogy and in a particular theory, to be able to understand: why do we learn?

Many years ago it was thought that children were subjects who learned by simple association and that the work of the educator or teacher was to show them knowledge so that they simply learned themHowever, it is currently considered a complex and multifactorial behavior, which involves: structures (areas of the brain), processes (chemical messengers inside the body) and products (the behavior itself) as described by cognitive psychology. Or, also, the influence of the environment on the learner's brain and how the learner can influence the environment as social neuroscience points out. "Social neuroscience is the study of the relationship between the neurological processes of the brain and social processes" (Franzoi, 2007).

One more approach, considers that the child, needs to get excited about the topics he learns to achieve it. From the point of view of neurosciences, we start from the following premise: “Without emotion there is no curiosity, there is no attention, there is no learning, there is no memory ”(Mesa, 2019).

However, one of the approaches that has most influenced in recent decades is the derivative of constructionism: “It is the theoretical perspective that affirms that people actively construct their perception of the world and interpret the objects and events that surround it in terms of what they already know. Therefore, their current state of knowledge guides processing and substantially influences how (and what) new information is acquired ”(APA, 2010. p. 105).

Constructivism emerged as an epistemological current concerned with discerning the problems of knowledge acquisition.

Llovera (1998) raises the following principles of constructivism regarding the learning process:

  • Learning is an internal, self-structuring constructive process.
  • The degree of learning depends on the level of cognitive development.
  • The starting point of all learning is prior knowledge.
  • Learning is a process of reconstruction of cultural knowledge.
  • Learning is facilitated through mediation and interaction with others.
  • Learning implies a process of internal reorganization of schemes.
  • Learning occurs when the student already conflicts with what he wanted to know.

Learning a behavior with multiple meanings

In the first place, to understand the meaning of learning it is important to know the concept that some authors have in general as we can see below:

Learning: Process of acquire informationpatterns new and relatively durable behavior or skills, which are characterized by behavior modification as a result of practice, study or experience (APA, 2009).

To learn: includes the knowledge acquisition and modification, skills, strategies, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Learning is an everyday fact that leads to thinking; how randomly and systematically, a new skill or a new concept is learned (Castañeda, 2004).

From the point of view of NLP, it involves: Learning, unlearning and relearning, in addition to considering the way we perceive reality with our sense organs (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory). As well as our past and present experiences, emphasizing the conscious way, but above all unconscious to learn reality and proposes a model divided into four stages of competences:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence (I don't know, I don't know something)
  2. Conscious Incompetence (Now I know I don't know something, and I'm learning)
  3. Conscious Competition (I know some things and I need to practice them, but I'm not an expert)
  4. Unconscious Competition (I have now learned and can do what I learned unconsciously) (O'connor & Seymour, 1995, p. 35).

In short, we can consider learning; as an act in which it is perceived, codified, information is processed and new behaviors are acquired; knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs that allow the subject to create a new reality. I could start from a basic knowledge, to a fully experienced one. Now, the importance of such a wide variety of learning is that we have different routes to reach the same end. And, just as there are different learning paths, there are also different people who make use of the one that best suits them.

To illustrate this last point, the so-called King of Mathematics Carl Friedrich Gauss, learned to count before writing and learned to read for himself, spelling the letters of relatives and family friends.

“He himself told the story that places him among the earliest mathematicians: when he was three years old, one morning on a summer Saturday, while his father proceeded to make the accounts to pay the salaries of the workers he was in charge of, the boy surprised him by stating that the sum was poorly made and giving the correct result. The subsequent review of Gerhard (his father) proved the boy right. No one had taught him the numbers and less to add (Rufián, 2012, p. 21).

The types of learning

There are different types of learning depending on the different theoretical approaches or theories:

  • Behavioral learning, is defined as a relatively permanent change in behavior, which reflects an acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience. These are exclusively conscious behaviors and are generally produced by a Stimulus and a Response (E-R). The individual knows the objective reality through the sense organs, the child or student is considered a passive being, who only reacts to environmental stimuli.
    • For example, Albert Bandura talks about social learning, where the most important are the behaviors that are observed and imitated, through models and called vicarious learning. It is fundamentally a learning by imitation of an observed model.
    • Other authors even being of the same current describe other types of learning:
      • In the Pavlov scheme (classical conditioning). In a planned environment it is possible to change the behavior. It is intended that students feel positive or negative predisposition towards someone or towards something they will learn.
      • For Thorndike (connectionism) The learning it is produced by trial or error or by selection and connection. Thus a behavior whose response is positive, will have a firm connection and learning will occur.
      • Thorndike and Skinner (operant conditioning) assume that learning is a process where behavior is strengthened that is followed by reinforcement and thus, the possibility that such behavior is repeated is increased again.
    • Learning for Piaget is a process that only makes sense in situations of change. And, knowing is adapting to the news. And, it explains the adaptation through two processes: assimilation and accommodation.
    • Learning for Vigotsky, is mainly based on the sociocultural learning of each individual and in the environment in which it develops.
    • Learning for Jerome Bruner (Psychologist and Pedagogue) is of a constructivist nature. He considered the student to be his own author of his knowledge and identity, in order to integrate himself into a specific social context and organize his knowledge in a logical and meaningful way. Its main feature is that it promotes the student to acquire knowledge for himself.

As can be seen in the 50s to 60s, a new form of transition for psychology was presented. It was a stage that went from Behavioral Psychology to Cognitive Psychology. I change the Stimulus - Response (E-R) paradigm to the information processing process (analyzing; Structures, Processes and Products).

The cognitive revolution in educational psychology highlighted “the learner as an active participant in the learning process. In addition, it encouraged research on how concrete students learned in real classroom environments, focusing particularly on individual learning strategies. used to learn subjects such as reading, writing or arithmetic (Mayer, 2002, p.11).

What is meaningful learning?

The Significant Learning theory is basically considered as a psychological theory of classroom learning. This theory is intended to account for the mechanisms by which the acquisition and retention of the large bodies of meaning that are handled in the school is carried out. It deals with the very processes that the individual puts into play to learn.

Ausubel (1976) emphasizes what happens in the classroom when students learn; in the nature of that learning; under the conditions that are required for it to occur; in its results and, consequently, in its evaluation.

Its author is the American psychologist and pedagogue David Ausubel (1918-2008) (1989); one of the most important personalities of constructivism: “notes that learning involves a change in capacity that can be inferred by comparison of executions of the type before and after, where the stimulus such as the lever or the drum of memory it is the bridge for the change of cognitive capacity ”.

David Ausubel proposed the term “Significant learning”To designate the process through which the new information relates to a relevant aspect of the individual's knowledge structure. The emergence of new meanings in the student reflects the consummation of a significant learning process. "Learning is not a spontaneous manifestation of isolated forms, but it is an indivisible activity formed by the processes of assimilation and accommodation, the resulting balance allows the person to actively adapt to reality, which constitutes the ultimate goal of learning ”(Arrancibia, 1999).

The traditional approach and cognitive change to science education offer two totally different points of view of how students learn, by assimilation versus accommodation.

  • Assimilation: students learn or fit the new information into their preexisting knowledge.
  • Accommodation: the student “must replace or reorganize their core concepts” because the “current concepts of the student are inadequate to allow him to understand some new phenomenon successfully. In summary, the student must build a new conception in which he can accommodate the new information presented (Mayer, 2002, p. 199).

Main postulates of David Ausubel's Theory

To get the learning you must have adequate material, the cognitive structures of the student and especially the motivation. David Ausubel

In the conception of the human being by Ausubel he describes it as: an active, receptive and competent being to learn to solve problems of everyday life, thanks to the information he has received and which he will subsequently incorporate and relate to his cognitive structure.

The theory of meaningful learning

  • It specifically deals with learning as it occurs in formal teaching contexts and, in particular, in the school classroom.
  • Meaningful learning includes the acquisition of new meanings and, conversely, these are the product of meaningful learning.
  • His interest is focused on the teaching and learning processes that lead to the assimilation of scientific concepts, based on the more or less spontaneous concepts formed by the child in his daily life.
  • The central point of the theory lies in the distinction between memory learning and meaningful learning.
  • Highlights the importance of prior student knowledge; “If I had to reduce all educational psychology to a single principle, I would state this: of all the factors that influence learning, the most important is what the student already knows. Find out this, and teach accordingly (Ausubel, 1989).


For the teacher

  • Should create a climate conducive for the student to experience autonomy in learning.
  • Should be trained, with the previous knowledge and experience to perform in the classroom.
  • You must have the flexibility of thinking to constantly change your teaching-learning processes.
  • You must define the material with which the students will work, according to the limitations that each one possesses.
  • You must get the best out of yourself, in order to get the best out of your students.
  • You must present to the student, the information organized logically.
  • Establish cognitive bridges, guiding the student to identify, organize and integrate the contents.

For the student

  • By activating your previous knowledge and experiences, it will help facilitate the significant learning process.
  • You must activate your own motivation schemes and not just wait for the teacher to motivate you.

For both

  • They should make a feedback to ensure retention and understanding of new knowledge.
  • They will establish a positive and willing attitude so that learning is motivating in both ways (teacher-student; student-teacher).

Final reflection

  • The Significant Learning Theory is a strategy where teachers, parents, researchers and designers of school curricula come together. As well as official institutions.
  • Many of its elements have not been understood by teachers, parents and school managers. The most serious case would be on the part of the SEP in Mexico, where in the official document (Curriculum Reform of 2016) construction representatives are mentioned as; Ausubel and Brunner, but they are only part of the official and political discourse. At that time the Secretary of Education was: Aurelio Nuño Mayer. He is remembered in his presentation when the girl Andrea corrects him and says: “It is not said: read, it is said to read” (Rivera, 2016).
  • Meaningful learning is a theory whose theoretical concepts and assumptions are still valid, both in the field; psychological and pedagogical
  • The professionalization of the teacher in pedagogical matters is extremely important to guarantee the significant learning of the dyad: the teacher learns from the student and the student from the teacher.
  • Meaningful learning is not possible unless there is a positive or motivational attitude: of the student to learn and the willingness of the teacher and the authorities to provide the human and material resources to carry it out.
  • Meaningful learning does not occur without language intervention. Nor is it produced by the elaboration of excellent curricular content, nor of the organizational actions contemplated therein. It will not be the product of the use of the Tics (Communication and Information Technologies). Neither of the pedagogical elaboration of content summaries, mental or conceptual maps by themselves. In the titanic work of the teacher corresponds to their own strategy to get the best out of each student and understand that all students and learning are different. If the teacher does not fulfill this task, simply meaningful learning will be another topic in his curricular training.
  • The psychological and pedagogical implications of the Learning Theory are very important, as well as its evolutionary approach. Its teaching-oriented principles require not only deep conceptual analysis, but the experience of the teacher's own significant learning. "Practice makes a master". How to teach meaningful learning, if those of us who are teaching do not know it and do not put it into practice?
  • The theory of Significant Learning is also evolving and nourishing itself with new contributions in the field of research, teaching practice, politics and new ways of acquiring knowledge from the student. Fortunately, it continues in the same process of adjustments and balances in order to find better strategies for the vast subject of learning.


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