Throughout the history of education, philosophers have constructed numerous theories to help educators solidify and enhance their students learning. These theories have been tested and used over time to gain insight on how individuals respond to different instructional techniques. The Constructivism theory is one of many well-known philosophies which has been continuously used in education. It has gained popularity throughout the years and some have referred to it as fashionable, faddish, and even a type of religion (Kretchmar, 2019). Based off of this reputation, educators have been able to use this theory and adapt it to their teaching style, making it universal for many.
In alignment with learning theories comes instructional design models. These models help to provide support and structure to the philosophies and are able to help present the content to learners in a sequential manner. The 5E instructional model consists of five fundamental phases; engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation. This design combined with the learning theory of Constructivism sets students up for success and ultimately delivers conceptual understanding of a topic in an influential way. It does this not only by incorporating the skills of cooperation and scaffolding, but also by adding collaboration and co-construction of ideas that are essential for 21st century learning (Desouza, 2017).
The Constructivism learning theory has become a solid foundation that many educators use. The fundamental idea behind this philosophy is education should be student-centered, as the learners are put in control to construct their own meaning of new information and the teacher’s role becomes a facilitator (Clark, 2018). It is believed with this theory students are able to make valuable connections which subsequently solidifies the knowledge they generate. This is helpful to the learner as they make associations between new knowledge and their personals experiences instead of trying to make connections from the point of view of others.
With the culture of the Constructivism theory being student-led, much of the learning takes place through discovery rather than direct instruction. This is completed by the teacher presenting the learner with information and resources that are necessary for the course to be correctly executed. These materials are then used and manipulated by the individual through self-exploratory or collaborative learning with others. From these interactions’ students are able to take the knowledge they have from prior perceptions and develop their own understanding to anchor new information.
These elements of Constructivism position ownership on the learner to take responsibility of their education by having them make connections and ask questions rather than mindlessly adhere to directions of the instructor and expecting information to stick (Clark, 2018). By following this central idea, constructivist educators are able to spend their time creating meaningful and valuable curriculum. This ensures that students are engaged and active participants in their learning. Although this theory requires more intentional rather than passive thinking for the learner, it is more beneficial as they are the driver in control of their learning process (Clark, 2018).
The key theorist whose ideas shaped the work and progression of the Constructivist theory was that of Dr. Lev Vygotsky, a Russian developmental psychologist (Yoders, 2014). Vygotsky’s main focus was always on the role of the social interaction between individuals and how the development of their learning progressed overtime. The areas of culture, language, and social interaction were the three variables that motivated his research, which ulitmately led to the discovery of the Constructivism theory (Kretchmar, 2019)
Much of Vygotsky’s research was completed through the developmental phases of children. He believed that at a young age spontaneous concepts were constructed organically through everyday life, however without the support of a formal classroom or instructor, children would not realize these discoveries (Kretchmar, 2019). Vygotsky concluded that although adolescents in childhood make connections independently, assistance of an adult is necessary to encourage personal connections to experimental learning. With this, the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) was established, a concept which describes what the learner can do either with, or without assistance or guidance (Yoders, 2104).
Throughout Vygotsky’s career he produced and contributed his knowledge to multiple books such as The Psychology of Art, Thought and Language, and Mind in Society. In 1934 Vygotsky collected multiple essays to create what some to be considered his most influential work (Jones, 2020). The book, Thought and Language, focuses on the development of the two main branches of speech and thought. His argument throughout the manuscript stays on track with the belief that these two start off by having different roots, however, are joined together once the child matures and is able to connect language to their thoughts (Jones, 2020). From this process, Vygotsky was able to begin his journey into the study of children in the education system.
From the constructivist theory stems certain concepts which are applicable to 21st century education such as scaffolding and collaborative learning. These two ideas aid learners to achieve knowledge with guidance and support of a facilitator. Scaffolding is a process which gives assistance to learners at the appropriate time which in hand leads to the release of power to the student when they are confident in themselves (Clark, 2018). This practice is beneficial as it makes learning that may be difficult for others seem like a simpler, more friendly task. Inevitably from this confidence is gained and the ability of the learner is improved (Yonders, 2014).
The 21st century skill of collaborative learning is also a notion which is applicable to today’s learners as it builds students knowledge in a way that supports a communicative environment. By integrating this concept into one’s education, students become more competent in skills and abilities that are necessary to perform in a professional setting (Clark, 2018). This type of learning backs the constructivist theory because not only does it require individuals to rely on each other to problem solve, but also gives them the momentum to take ownership of their learning.
5E Instructional Design Model
The instructional design model that will reinforce the learning theory of Constructivism is the 5E model. This strategy is known for helping students move from understanding concrete experiences to applying the principles in a way that resonates with them (Omotayo & Adeleke, 2017). The 5E learning model was created based off of the Atkin and Karplus learning cycle in the early 1960’s. Over the years it has been transformed into the five steps which we know today as engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation (Omotavo & Adeleke, 2017).
The 5E instructional model has five stages that can be taught in a linear or cyclical approach (Appendix A & B). In doing this, students are able to refer back to any stage throughout the learning cycle, however it should be noted that this does not mean the phases should be taught in a different order than listed. When omitting or rearranging the 5E’s research has proven that sequence and integrity are lost from the audience (Desouza, 2017). Since there are five different stages that need to be touched upon at least once during the model, it is recommended that the course being taught lasting a duration of two to three weeks.
This instructional design model provides a framework for designing activities supported by the Constructivism theory as it is solely based off of the idea that learners bring with them their own experience that they can use to construct knowledge by testing new ideas against the existing ideas that they know to be real (Desouza, 2017). This aligns well with the Constructivism learning philosophy as it was built based upon the similar idea that learners gain and interpret knowledge from their perceptions of the world around them. Using this theory along with the 5E instructional design model will set learners up for success as their main goals are parallel.
Learning Strategies and Activities
When designing an instructional course for the 21st century learner it is crucial that the learning theory and model are supported by strategies and engaging activities. When planning strategies to use for scaffolding one would to be providing visuals. These aids can be used to help students generate and organize their ideas in the form of a graphic organizer. Visuals are also a tool to utilize because they progress learners thinking about different ideas which can also help to assist them in making personal connections. Secondly, checking for understanding will be a scaffolding strategy that will be used to ensure students are grasping the concepts and do not have misconceptions or gaps in their learning. A quick conversation, post-it note check-in, or exit ticket are ideal for this type of evaluation.
In addition to scaffolding, collaborative learning is a skill in which students learn to communicate and share ideas. One activity that students will participate in to practice this is to share their ideas on a topic with at least one other classmate and communicate positive and constructive feedback. This will encourage students to work together to enhance their techniques and learning. In addition to sharing ideas, collaborative learning will also be present when students work in team-based learning to complete an assigned task. This is a skill that many have a difficult time with, however it is important that it is practiced as it promotes communication and teamwork.
When planning assessment of instruction, evaluating the student learning using formative and summative tools are necessary. To begin with, formative assessments are essential as they are used throughout courses to improve student learning and give feedback on participating activities (Dixson & Worrell, 2016). Personally, I believe this type of assessment to be more beneficial to students than summative assessments as it informs the learner of their progress during multiple points of the module rather than just the conclusion. There are many strategies in which formative assessment can be used to assess student understanding such as observations, exit tickets, self-evaluations, and homework. Each of these examples will be able to connect to diverse learner need and expectations as they can be accommodated and modified as the instructor sees fit. For example, if a student would rather speak than write a reflection for a self-evaluation, they would be able to record themselves on a device and turn that in rather than writing or typing a response.
A summative assessment is also meaningful as it is an assessment that captures what a student has learned, or the quality of learning, and judge’s performance (Dixson & Worrell, 2016). When it comes to providing students these types of assessments they are usually in the form of final performances, papers, exams or projects. A majority of time this is the assessment that learners struggle with most as a great deal of learning is measured. With this being the case, I always like to give my students a few options to choose from to show their knowledge. This could be writing a written explanation, drawing an illustration and adding a caption, or creating a visual, tangible or technology based, that provides insight into what they learned. In doing this all students needs are met as they are able to choose the style that works best for them and their needs.
Philisophy of Instructional Design
Education is valuable and beneficial to all, especially when generated by the learner. When the instructor becomes the facilitator and learning is fostered by the student, magical understandings begin to happen. In being an instructional designer, one has the power to influence the brains of many who will develop innovative ideas. When I reflect on how I measure my success it falls around the success of my students. If they are able to utilize the knowledge learned, communicate effectively with others, and be life-long learners, I feel as though I have accomplished my goal. In conclusion my belief behind instructional design is that creating comprehensive courses with the correct theory and model only go as far as the learners take-away.
In the world of education there are many philosophies and instructional design models to be chosen from, however for an instructor’s course to be beneficial it is important that the two which are selected mesh well together to create a cohesive learning experience for the student. The learning theory of Constructivism paired with the 5E instructional model and 21st century skills benefits the learner as they align in their beliefs that teaching is the most valuable to the student when they are able to use their own life experiences to make connections to new information. Learning in this way not only will ground an individual’s new knowledge, but it will also help them in taking ownership of their education.
Clark, K. R. (2018). Learning Theories: Constructivism. Radiologic Technology, 90(2), 180–182.
Desouza, J. M. S. (2017). Conceptual play and science inquiry: using the 5E instructional model. Pedagogies, 12(4), 340-353. httpss://doi.org/10/1080/1554480X.2017.1373651
Dixson, D. D., & Worrell, F. C. (2016). Formative and Summative Assessment in the Classroom. Theory Into Practice, 55(2), 153–159. https://doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2016.1
Jones, J. T. (2020). Lev Vygotsky. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia.
Kretchmar, J. (2019). Constructivism. Salem Press Encyclopedia.
Omotayo, S. A., & Adeleke, J. O. (2017). The 5E Instructional Model: A Constructivist Approach for Enhancing Students' Learning Outcomes in Mathematics. Journal of International Society for Teacher Education, 21(2), 15–26.
Yoders, S. (2014). Constructivism Theory and Use from 21st Century Perspective. Journal of Applied Learning Technology, 4(3), 12–20.