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Constructivist Learning Theory: Understanding the Building Blocks of Knowledge

The Constructivist Learning Theory fosters an active learning environment, empowering students to discover answers independently.

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The bottom line
  • The Constructivist Learning Theory emphasizes that people are active participants in their own learning process.
  • According to this theory, our understanding is built on the combination of existing knowledge and new information.
  • Constructivist teaching requires teachers to acknowledge the unique capabilities, experiences, and circumstances of each student.

Most, if not all, traditional methods of teaching place the responsibility for learning solely on the shoulders of educators. Teachers first filter and organize information before disseminating it to students who are ready to passively receive it. This means that inside the classroom, lessons are structured according to a fixed curriculum and the teacher’s preferences. In simpler terms, the teacher plans the lessons. He instructs, and the students listen.

Generally, the traditional methods of teaching have been effective – older generations are a testament to this. However, a 2019 study has shown that students learn better when they’re active participants, not passive recipients. Moreover, traditional education relies on methods of instruction that do not consider the different ways people learn and their varying levels of understanding.

Applying the Constructivist Learning Theory theory in the classroom should help solve these issues. This theory states that we construct knowledge based on our experience and perception. When we are faced with new information, we view it using the lens of our current understanding, beliefs, and even cultural background – all of which influence our interpretation of new information.

In this article, we’ll be delving deep into Constructivist learning and how it differs from traditional methods. We’ll also look at its various benefits as well as discuss the different ways it can be applied in the classroom to boost learning and help students achieve their full potential.

Table of Contents

What is the Constructivist Learning Theory?

The main idea of the Constructivist Learning Theory is that knowledge is actively constructed by the learner using his past knowledge and experience. In layman’s terms, learning is simply fitting new information into what we already know.

Here’s an example: As children, we learned about the concept of heat through touch. Later, we learned that heat is measured by temperature and that there are degrees of heat. In science class, we gained a better understanding of heat – it is a form of energy that transfers from a substance that has a higher temperature to one that has a lower temperature. We also learn that heat can move in different ways, such as conduction and radiation. As you can see, we were able to construct our knowledge of heat over time, building on the existing knowledge to help us understand the concept better.

That’s not all. According to the Constructivist Learning Theory, each of us organizes all the information we gain into our own individualized knowledge base according to our interpretation. What does this mean? Experience, past knowledge, and even cultural background can influence our interpretation of information. Since everyone’s experience and background are different, two different people absorbing the same piece of information would have their own unique interpretation of it.

For example, two students see a red object. Both would use red to describe the object. But their experience in learning about “the color red” would be different. The representations and associations they make with this color would also vary. Moreover, how they recalled the information would depend on their experience.

Moreover, our learning experiences change as we learn. That sounds confusing, right? Each learning experience makes an impact. Aside from influencing the meaning we place on the information we absorb, it can also affect how we learn in the future. This means that teachers can influence how students view learning, helping them develop a lifelong learning mindset.

There are two processes that occur during Constructivist learning:

Assimilation: During this process, the learner takes in new information and fits it into his current pre-existing knowledge (schema) or creates new ones.

Accommodation: During this process, the learner uses his newly acquired knowledge to revise and modify his existing knowledge (schema).

Principles of Constructivist Learning

The guiding principles of the Constructivist approach can help teachers to implement it in the classroom.

1. Knowledge is constructed. Each of us has pre-existing knowledge that we use to reflect on new information we receive.
2. Learning is an active process. Knowledge is not “out there” for us to passively absorb. Instead, we interact with our environment, using our experience and past knowledge to gain a deeper understanding.
3. Learning is a social process. Learning is not something that you do on your own. It is through interacting with others, especially those who are more knowledgeable, that we learn best.
4. Learning is contextual. We do not learn in isolation or in a vacuum. Instead, learning occurs within a context that includes the environment, our past knowledge, experience, beliefs, culture, and even language.
5. Learning is personal. Because we all have unique experiences and preexisting knowledge, each person’s constructed knowledge differs from one person to another.
6. The learner is at the center of the learning experience. The focus is on the student – his interest, needs, and level of understanding. The method of instruction used should be suitable to his learning style, not to the teacher’s preferences.
7. Learning exists in the mind. While practical experience is important to retain knowledge, it is not enough. Engaging the mind is also part of the process. Each learner will form a mental model of the real world – one that is personalized based on their previous knowledge, experience, and cultural background. It is their interpretation of reality constructed to reflect their current understanding.
8. Motivation is key to learning. Students cannot learn if they’re not willing to create connections and reflect on their previous understanding and the current information. Teachers need to motivate students to be active participants so that they engage in the learning activity.

Benefits of Constructivist Learning Theory

Promotes student autonomy

According to the Constructivist Learning Theory, students should be active participants in the learning process. Instead of having a fixed curriculum, constructivists suggest that teachers encourage students to explore the topic and ask questions. Their role is to guide the students in developing a deeper understanding of the material instead of telling them what to learn.

Increases student engagement

Since learners are active participants, teachers need to increase the student’s engagement in class. This can be done through various activities such as classroom discussions, group projects, and real-life simulations or roleplays.

Fosters deep learning

Students actively participate in problem-solving activities, which deepens their understanding of the material while helping them practice critical thinking skills.

Applying Constructivist Learning in the classroom

So, what does Constructivist Learning theory mean for teachers? Educators cannot simply transfer knowledge to students – telling them the information they need to know and then testing them on it. Students are not blank slates or empty vessels. They are not going to passively receive information given by the teacher.

Instead, students should actively participate in the experience. They should reflect on the information, see how it fits their past knowledge and experiences, and merge the new information with their current understanding. As such, teachers should create opportunities for their students to engage in learning experiences. They should also adapt their teaching techniques according to the student’s needs and level of understanding.

Below are some Constructivist teaching methods in the classroom, especially for distance learning (e-learning) programs:

  • Problem-based learning (PBL): Allows your students to work together on solving real-world problems. They will need to analyze the problem using past knowledge, determine what information they are still lacking, and evaluate possible solutions.
  • Inquiry-based learning (IBL): Allows the students to explore the topic in-depth. Encourage them to ask questions, follow their interest, and research the topic. Guide them in finding connections between what they already know and what they are learning at the moment.
  • Cooperative learning: Let your students form small groups to work on an activity or project. Each member shares their knowledge to help the group further their own understanding. Unlike group-based learning, cooperative learning is interdependent; the students work as one to complete the task instead of dividing the labor amongst themselves. Some cooperative learning activities include jigsaw puzzle activities, concept mapping, and brainstorming.

Here are some ideas on activities and digital technologies that you can use in both face-to-face and online classes:

  • Role-playing: Let your students take on the role of a historical figure, an animal, a plant, or even a body organ. For example, students can take on the role of different plants and animals in an ecosystem to thoroughly understand how each living thing can impact their environment. They can also act as different organs in the body, explaining to the rest of the class how each one of them functions inside the body.
  • Use interactive materials: Engage your students using interactive presentations made through Canva and Prezi. Get them to create connections between ideas through mind maps.
  • Apply game-based learning: Motivate your students to explore a topic using platforms like Minecraft: Education Edition.
  • Simulations: use augmented reality to provide students with immersive learning experiences that will allow them to apply their newly constructed knowledge.
  • Ask open-ended questions: Create opportunities for engagement by asking questions that spur conversations or even a debate.


The Constructivist Learning Theory is an effective tool that educators can use to enhance student learning. When applied correctly, it promotes critical thinking, autonomy, and even a love for learning. More importantly, no student gets left behind because the learning process is individualized. Everyone gets to construct knowledge based on their level of understanding and personal experience.