Social Constructivism

Definition

Social constructivism focus on social nature of cognition, and suggests approaches that

  • Gives learners the opportunity for concrete, contextually meaningful experience through which they search for patterns, raise their own questions, and construct their own models;
  • Facilitates a community of learners to engage in activity, discourse, and reflection;
  • Encourages students to take on more ownership of the ideas, and to pursue autonomy, mutual reciprocity of social relations, and empowerment to be the goals.

 

Primary Theorist

Lev Vygotsky

Figure 1. Lev Vygotsky. Source: http://www.vygotskydocumentary.com/images/vygotsky.jpg

Vygotsky added the social perspective of learning to constructivist theory and practice. Emphasis on the social aspects of the learning process has become very important in thought about learning and teaching.

Vygotsky’s theory stresses that social Interactions are critical and that knowledge is constructed via the interactions with the environment and the other people. Vygotksy is especially known for introducing the concept of the “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD). The notion of scaffolding, was first proposed by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976), also is based on Vygotsky’s ideas. The main ideas of social constructivism are:

  • The ZPD is defined as the distance between a student’s mental age when working alone, and that when working with a person of greater mental age. Learning tasks can be placed into three categories:
    • those performed independently by the learner;
    • those that cannot be performed even with help;
    • those that fall between the two extremes, the tasks that can be performed with help from others.
  • Scaffolding is the support that the person with the more advanced abilities provides, but it can also be in material form (as in the scaffolds of a building when it is under construction). An important point is that scaffolding is eventually removed because the learner no longer requires it.
    • Appropriate and timely scaffolding within an individual’s ZPD has become an essential strategy for teachers working with a social constructivist approach.
    • Typically, learners receive scaffolding from peers, teachers, and even virtual community sources.
    • There is a wide range of variety of scaffolds can be employed in practice, such as support, prompt, critical listener, feedback, simplifier, motivator, highlighter and so on.

 

Social constructivism is linked to instructional approaches and strategies such as: