The constructivism movement sprang from the work of Piaget and Vygotsky in the 1970’s. Constructivism is a psychological approach to learning in which proponents ‘seek to engage learners in experiences through which they construct their own knowledge’ (Albion, 2015).
Vygotsky was a social constructivist, believing that learners would participate in meaningful learning when engaging with content actively, intentionally, authentically, cooperatively and collaboratively (Howland, Jonassen & Marra, 2012). Activities that support the pedagogical implementation of constructivism include project-based assessments and the essential question approach to lesson planning. Essential questions are those which create a space for students to explore big ideas, whilst developing a socially critical learning environment (Malone, 2011, pp. 290).
Collaborative learning is more than just putting students together
Forming a sense of community through interdependence, task cohesion, psychological safety, and group potency is crucial for the development of social and cognitive processes (Bossche et al., 2006). Therefore, developing a sense of community is required for the successful facilitation of collaborative learning. Approaches and frameworks for creating such environments include constructivism, transformative pedagogy and activity theory.
The design thinking approach is justified in the writings of proponents of constructivism. Jean Piaget was a leading advocate for cognitive constructivism believing that learning is an active process that should be whole and authentic to be effective (Ayas, 2006). The work of Lev Vygotsky was focused on social constructivism where social interaction and the use of cultural tools facilitate learning (Ayas, 2006).
Seymour Papert was a constructionist who built on the ideas of both Piaget and Vygotsky, claiming that ‘the role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention’ (Papert, 1993). These ‘conditions for invention’ or ‘emergent spaces’ can be created when taking a design thinking approach to learning. The design thinking process can be broken into five distinct stages:
DISCOVERY Understanding the challenge. Preparing research. Gathering inspiration
INTERPRETATION Telling stories. Searching for meaning.
IDEATION Generate ideas. Refine ideas.
EXPERIMENTATION Make prototypes. Get feedback.
PRESENTATION & EVOLUTION Present learnings. Track learnings & move forward.
The activity system
A helpful framework for understanding the enactment of constructivism and collaboration is through activity theory, which has been popularised in the West by Scandanavian researchers from the work of Vygotsky (Engeström, 1987).
The diagram below represents the activity system, where a subject (learner or teacher) acts upon an object to produce an outcome (Albion, 2015). During this process mediating effects such as rules, community, tools and roles determine how the subject interacts with the object. Therefore a stronger community is seen to have a positive effect on the learner’s interaction with the object and consequently the outcome.