Constructivist Learning Theory,ENGLİSH

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Constructivist Learning Theory,ENGLİSH

Mesaj  Admin Bir Salı Nis. 07, 2009 1:35 am

Constructivist Learning Theory
The Museum and the Needs of People
CECA (International Committee of Museum Educators) Conference
Jerusalem Israel, 15-22 October 1991
Prof. George E. Hein
Lesley College. Massachusetts USA
The latest catchword in educational circles is "constructivism, " applied both to learning theory and to epistemology---both to how people learn, and to the nature of knowledge.1,2 We don't need to succumb to each new fad, but we do need to think about our work in relation to theories of learning and knowledge. So we need to ask: what is constructivism, what does it have to tell us that is new and relevant, and how do we apply it to our work? As far as I can see, there is nothing dramatically new in constructivism: the core ideas expressed by it have been clearly enunciated by John Dewey among others, but there is a new, widespread acceptance of this old set of ideas. and new research in cognitive psychology to support it. I would like to give a brief exposition of ideas central to constructivism and widely accepted today by educators. curriculum developers and cognitive psychologists, and then suggest what they mean for museum educators.

What is meant by constructivism? The term refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves---each learner individually (and socially) constructs meaning---as he or she learns. 3 Constructing meaning is learning; there is no other kind. The dramatic consequences of this view are twofold;

1) we have to focus on the learner in thinking about learning (not on the subject/lesson to be taught):

2) There is no knowledge independent of the meaning attributed to experience (constructed) by the learner, or community of learners.

Let me discuss the second point first because, although it appears radical on an everyday level, it is a position which has been frequently adopted ever since people began to ponder epistemology. If we accept constructivist theory (which means we are willing to follow in the path of Dewey, Piaget and Vigotsky among others), then we have to give up Platonic and all subsequent realistic views of epistemology. We have to recognize that there is no such thing as knowledge "out there" independent of the knower, but only knowledge we construct for ourselves as we learn. 4 Learning is not understanding the "true" nature of things, nor is it (as Plato suggested) remembering dimly perceived perfect ideas, but rather a personal and social construction of meaning out of the bewildering array of sensations which have no order or structure besides the explanations (and I stress the plural) which we fabricate for them.

I'm sure that many of you have had philosophy courses which have exposed you to these concepts, and you may accept this basic premise that there is no such entity as a Ding an sich whether or not we can perceive it. Yet we all tend to remain closet realists, and refute Bishop Berkeley, as Samuel Johnson did, by kicking the stone and feeling real pain. The more important question is, does it actually make any difference in our everyday work whether deep down we consider knowledge to be about some "real" world independent of us, or whether we consider knowledge to be of our own making? The answer is yes, it does make a difference, because of the first point I suggested above: in our profession our epistemological views dictate our pedagogic views.

If we believe that knowledge consists of learning about the real world out there, then we endeavor first and foremost to understand that world, organize it in the most rational way possible, and, as teachers, present it to the learner. This view may still engage us in providing the learner with activities, with hands-on learning, with opportunities to experiment and manipulate the objects of the world, but the intention is always to make clear to the learner the structure of the world independent of the learner. We help the learner understand the world. but we don't ask him to construct his or her own world.

The great triumph of Western intellectual history from the Enlightenment until the beginning of the 2Oth century rested on its ability to organize the knowledge of the world in a rational way independent of the learner, determined by some structure of the subject. Disciplines were developed, taxonomic schemes established, and all these categories were viewed as components of a vast mechanical machine in which the parts could be explained in terms of their relationship to each other, and each part contributed to making the whole function smoothly. Nowhere in this description does the learner appear. The task of the teacher was to make clear to the learner the working of this machine and any accommodation to the learner was only to account for different appropriate entry points for different learners.

However, as I have indicated above, constructivist theory requires that we turn our attention by 180 degrees we must turn our back on any idea of an all-encompassing machine which describes nature and instead look towards all those wonderful, individual living beings---the learners---each of whom creates his or her own model to explain nature. If we accept the constructivist position we are inevitably required to follow a pedagogy which argues that we must provide learners with the opportunity to: a) interact with sensory data, and b) construct their own world. 5

This second point is a little harder for us to swallow, and most of us constantly vacillate between faith that our learners will indeed construct meaning which we will find acceptable (whatever we mean by that) and our need to construct meaning for them; that is, to structure situations that are not free for learners to carry out their own mental actions, but "learning" situations which channel them into our ideas about the meaning of experience. A common example of the unresolved tension is our attitude towards museum tours which explain exhibits to the visitor. I have repeatedly asked museum professionals if they personally enjoy guided tours, and they almost universally tell me that they try to avoid them at all costs. Yet, at CECA meetings (and this one is no exception) our colleagues frequently give us extensive guided tours through galleries, insisting on presenting the expert guide's interpretation, pace and selection to influence the viewer's perception and learning. It is this tension between our desire as teachers to teach the truth, to present the world "as it really is", and our desire to let learners construct their own world which requires us to think seriously about epistemology and pedagogy. 6


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