What Is Constructivism?

By Erika Hanson | Published


Good educators know that every student learns differently. Teachers that have a broad understanding of all the different learning methods can better understand the needs of students in their classrooms. Constructivism is one of these learning methods, and it has been growing in popularity.

What It Is

Constructivism is based upon the concept that people actively make their own knowledge through experiences. In other words, people learn by applying previous knowledge to subject matter as a foundation upon which they built to better understand what they are studying. With that thought, this learning method states that every individual person’s experiences make their learning unique to them. 

It is important that educators understand the constructivism learning method, as many students might benefit from this learning technique. Under this belief, students bring in their own unique experiences to the classroom every day. The student’s background, such as where they come from, and past learning experiences all can affect how the student learns.



There are elements within the concept of constructivism in education. These principles help shape the way this learning method works inside the classroom. Educators that understand and apply these principles have greater success with students that benefit from constructive teachings. The principles are as follows:

Knowledge is constructed. This fundamental principle of constructivism ultimately states that knowledge is built upon other knowledge. Students can often take past experiences and knowledge along with beliefs and insights to learn something different. 

The next principle says that people learn to learn, as they learn. This confusing sounding component shows how students learn multiple aspects through one study. For example, if a student is learning the chronology of dates for a historic event, they are also learning about the meaning of chronology. It is similar to the saying “killing two birds with one stone” as far as education goes. 


Learning is also an active process. Sensory input helps students construct meaning in what they learn about. Moreso, it deals with sensory input from the student’s environment, as they relate back to them. If student’s cant relates the learning to something else, this principle states they won’t retain the information as well.

Learning is social. Constructivism conveys that students learn in regards to their connection to others. Teachers, family members, and peers all affect how students learn. Through progressive education, social interactions are often key elements of studies through conversation, interaction, and group work as a means to retain knowledge.

Learning is contextual. Connection is key to how students learn. This belief is that students fail to learn new things without being able to relate them back to a specific event. Similarly, people tend to remember things better if they can connect them to a specific time or event. 

Knowledge is personal. Since constructivism is based on experiences and beliefs, knowledge can be considered a personal matter. This principle points to the notion that everyone will learn at a different pace. Therefore, the type of information students retains, along with how well they can, differs from student to student. 


Learning exists in the mind. While hands-on-experience is a necessary part of education, these learning methods aren’t always enough. It is vital that teachers also engage the mind.

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Motivation is key to learning. This principle is straight-forward. Teachers can’t successfully engage with kids to learn if they are unmotivated. It is important for educators to come up with engaging activities to foster a well-performing learning environment. Without motivation, it is difficult for students to reach back to personal experiences and make a connection for new learning. 

Types of Constructivism

To understand how constructivism can be beneficial, it is important to know the different styles within this teaching method. Educators can imply cognitive, social, and radical types of constructive learning. A good mixture of each can meet the needs of all students.

Cognitive constructivism derives from the belief that learning is directly related to the current stage of cognitive development within the learner. This style of learning seeks to aid students in learning new information by connecting the study to things they already know. Jene Piaget, a Swiss psychologist who was known for his work on child development pioneered this learning style.

Social constructivism concentrates on the collaborative nature of learning. This style explains how knowledge develops based on how we interact with others through culture and society at large. Students rely on social interactions as a foundation for learning. 

Radical constructivism deals with the belief that the knowledge students construct tells us nothing real, but rather helps us function in our environments. The idea is that knowledge is invented, not discovered. This theory was first developed by Ernst von Glasersfeld, a philosopher and professor who taught at the University of Georgia. 

Constructivism Cons

While constructivism has long been researched and praised, it also has setbacks. Opponents to this teaching method say it lacks structure. Oftentimes, students do need highly structured and organized learning environments to excel. Constructive learning methods focus on more laid-back methods, and not all students will engage in this method. Similarly, educators that follow this concept often put grades on the back burner or don’t count them at all. This does nothing to help students prepare for required exams. 

Teachers who apply Constructivism into classrooms often praise the method, but it’s not for everyone. Typically, ideal classrooms structure learning around a wide array of methods, as what works well for some may not work well for others. For those looking to dive deeper into this learning method, or even get started on a curriculum that’s more self-directed, The Robinson Curriculum has some great resources to get started.