e-tivity 2.1: Constructivism

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Constructivism is an approach to instruction that over the last decade has been implemented and considered by many theorists and practitioners. It is however only one of many learning theories and it is hotly debated as to it’s usefulness in all situations. I invite you to consider your own position on the usefulness and importance of a constructivist approach in terms of instructional design development.

I made the above video over a couple of hours. I had never used the web tool Pow Toon before but thought I would have a try. I already had prior knowledge of how to use YouTube and had my own account. I also have used a number of other Web 2.0 online tools before for a couple of school blogs so felt reasonably well equipped to take on the challenge. I am on NBN broadband so long upload times aren’t an issue and finally the Pow Toon website has excellent instructional videos in English (I tend to learn best when presented with visual and aural material). Ultimately the end product isn’t brilliant but I managed to construct my own learning as I synthesised prior knowledge and constructed new meaning. I took responsibility for my own learning, problem solved as issues arose, and now have something to share with my community. This experience sums up, to me, the principles of a constructivist approach to learning. As an adult and teacher I knew I had all the necessary components to ensure that the final outcome would be successful. My learning objective was to create a short Pow Toon on how I create learning projects for my students.

As mentioned in the video, creating 10 week units of work embedded with constructivist elements is hard work. Brent (2012) makes mention that ” In general, high quality constructivist teaching requires more support, more access to resources, more careful design and attention to detail, more progress monitoring, and more carefully crafted guidance than instructor-led teaching.” He then goes on to state that “Watching learners take responsibility and become truly engaged can be enormously satisfying, but getting to that point can be an ordeal.” This I think identifies why utilising a constructivist approach in ID is so important. It demands that the designer think very deeply about every detail in the design process as it will not be delivered in an instructor led environment. It will be the map, compass and survival kit on a rich quest of learning and discovery that finalises at an identified point. Another main issue is whether the designer is skilled enough to develop a great plan in combination with experience and theory (Brent, 2012); and even more importantly Brent (2012) identifies that when applying constructivism to learning designs the educator must be wary that the ideas and principles embedded into the experiences “benefit the right people, particularly those who may not be in a positions of power or influence” (Wilson, as cited in Brent, 2012).

In response to the Wiki link on Constructivism (the link on the uni shell is to the cognitivism page) I personally am not a great lover of wikis as they are not usually very appealing visually. The information on this wiki page, however, is set up very well and in small bites with relevant links that still worked. I liked the Piaget & Vygotsky in 90 seconds video and infographic displays. It is a good succinct learning resource that I would have liked to have found in the 1st year of my education degree.The wiki demonstrates a constructivist design approach as the creators expect the audience to have some prior knowledge of education theorists. Firstly, one needs to find (Google) the wiki and then be able to navigate the interface to find the correct page. They need to have prior understanding of academic terminology and clear headings guide the reader towards contrasting theorists ideas. More complex information is provided and recommendations made under the heading  “Tools and Practices for the Constructivist Teacher.” Strategies for lesson delivery are also provided. Finally links are provided if the reader wishes to delve more deeply into the various topics.


Wilson, B. (2012). Constructivism in practical and historical context. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology. Boston: Pearson.


e-tivity 1.2

Lining up wind turbines

Image: Kate Booth

Reiser and Dempsey (2012) attempt to define the field of instructional design in the first 3 chapters of their book Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology. In chapter one they suggest that instructional technology is a difficult field to define as it is constantly changing. They proceed to give a number of historical definitions. In chapter two they outline a number of characteristics of Instructional Design Models including a systems based approach and the popular ADDIE model. In the final chapter of this section they present a history of instructional design and technology. This chapter helps to contextualise where we are currently in terms of how we use and understand instructional design and technology (IDT). If you have access to Reisre and Dempsey I invite you to read all 3 chapters and reflect on what you already know about IDT and how you see it fitting into what and how you are currently teaching.

Chapters 1–3 of Reiser, R. & Dempsey, J. (2012) Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology. (3rd ed) New Jersey:Merrill. On your blog answer one or more of the following questions:

  • Define instructional design? Do you understand it more in terms of ‘product’ or ‘process’?

I understand instructional design (ID) to be a process as my definition of instructional design is:  “the creation of a unit of work or learning experience that identifies all resources needed and is linked to a specific learning outcome.” The educator has carefully scaffolded the learning experience to assist the student in successfully reaching the identified learning objective. Reiser (2001, 2012) defines ID as encompassing analysis, design, development, implementation of evaluation and management of instruction (ADDIE model). This mirrors Blooms Taxonomy where planning a unit of work takes in the areas of remembering,  understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating and creating, though I would flip the order in my design of learning projects for a  class of primary students.

Furthermore, good design projects must be able to foster  metacognition and all educators should look for this when they take their students out of their Zone of Proximal Development (Berk, 2006 ) and into the realms of higher order thinking as new concepts are synthesised and integrated into prior knowledge. Reiser went on further, in his recorded lecture, to state that courses needed to be “well designed to promote active learning/participation and that learning activities should be effective and interesting” (2010). This is paramount to engaging students in taking ownership of their learning by linking meaningful and authentic real world scenarios into course design.

One interesting concept was the definition of a system as highlighted by Gustafson and Branch (2007) and how all components of the system were interdependent of each other. When designing a 10 week unit of work I start with the specific learning outcome/s as dictated by the NSW Board of Studies Syllabus, then indicators must be set that will enable the me to identify outcomes through formative and summative assessment, all resources (digital and hard copy) assembled and accessible (equity) , individual student learning needs accounted for through differentiation of  learning tasks,whole school learning priorities, and the list goes on… Therefore reflecting on past units I have created, I can identify with the systems based approach, as  all of my units were completely reliant on each unique component in order to achieve the identified learning outcomes for my students.

Moving on, I am only just discovering the concepts of ID so for now the product, for me, is the end result or the final objective i.e. a poster, video, audio recording or slide show based on the topic part of the assessment criteria. As I think more deeply there is a grey area where the product could be the actual learning processes as the student moves forward through the carefully designed learning sequences…more food for thought…

    • Is instruction (and hence instructional design) different from training or teaching?

Definition of instruction


1 (often instructions) a direction or order:he issued instructions to the sheriffhe was acting on my instructions
(instructions) Law directions to a solicitor or counsel, or to a jury.
Computing a code in a program which defines and carries out an operation.
2 (instructions) detailed information about how something should be done or operated:always study the instructions supplied
3 [mass noun] teaching; education:instruction in the Roman Catholic faith

Definition of teaching

noun 1 [mass noun] the occupation, profession, or work of a teacher: I went into teaching because I like working with children [as modifier]: a teaching union 2 (teachings) ideas or principles taught by an authority: the teachings of the Koran

Definition of training

[mass noun] the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behaviour:
in-service training for staff
the action of undertaking a course of exercise and diet in preparation for a sporting event:
you’ll have to go into strict training

Oxford dictionaries Online

No, I do not think ID is different from teaching or training. What I do think is that there are different theories and strategies that are embraced by politicians, educators and other stakeholders and these shape and drive curriculum design and delivery. For example, Noel Pearson introduced Direct Instruction (DI),  underpinned by the behaviourist theories of B.F. Skinner,  into the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy (CYAAA) to a mixed reception. DI is a highly instructional teaching strategy that incorporates ‘scripted’ lessons taught every day- the polar opposite of a constructivist pedagogy.

For more information on Direct Instruction click on the following hyperlinks:

ACER Research: Effective Teaching Strategies; Dr Ken Rowe

Direct Instruction Revisited: A Key Model for Instructional Technology; Susan G. Magliaro, Barbara B. Lockee, John K. Burton

  • What did you find interesting in reading about the history of instructional design and technology?

Firstly, I found it very interesting how Thomas Edison stated in 1913 that “Books will soon be obsolete in the schools…It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed in the next ten years” (as cited in Saettler, 1968, p. 98). This didn’t quite come true then but in the past 10 years e-readers have come into their own as more books are delivered digitally. Henley High School in South Australia, for instance, completely did away with their school library (over 10,000 books!). I wonder how they deal with the equity issue regarding access to e-books through digital devices?

Secondly, it was especially interesting to read about the German Chief of General Staff who mentioned, in 1945, that “We had everything calculated perfectly except the speed with which America was able to train its people. Our major miscalculation was in underestimating their quick and complete mastery of film education” (as cited in Olsen & Bass, 1982, p. 33). I had never thought of how powerful war instructional films were to the success of the allied forces. Today YouTube is an enormously successful instructional resource with millions of  video tutorials available in an instant. Why read when you can go to YouTube  and watch how to do it? The Kahn Academy is another example of  a highly successful online instructional resource with over 3000 video tutorials covering  a plethora of different educational subjects.


Berk, L. (2006). Child development (7th ed.). Boston, NY: Pearson Education.

Gustafson, K., & Branch, R. (2007). What is instructional design? In R. A. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (pp. 17-26). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.

NYUSteinhardt (Producer). (2012, 25 October). Robert Reiser, Ph.D, Ten Trends Affecting the Field of Instructional Design and Technology. [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxq5WnZ558Y

Reiser, R. A history of instructional design and technology: Part I: A history of instructional media. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(1), 53-64. doi: 10.1007/bf02504506

Reiser, R. A history of instructional design and technology: Part II: A history of instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(2), 57-67. doi: 10.1007/bf02504928