Social constructivism

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Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge according to which human development is socially situated and knowledge is constructed through interaction with others. [1]

Sociological theory theory advanced by social scientists to explain facts about the social world

Sociological theories are statements of how and why particular facts about the social world are related. They range in scope from concise descriptions of a single social process to paradigms for analysis and interpretation. Some sociological theories explain aspects of the social world and enable prediction about future events, while others function as broad perspectives which guide further sociological analyses.

Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning.


Social constructivism

Like social constructionism, social constructivism states that people work together to construct artifacts. While social constructionism focuses on the artifacts that are created through the social interactions of a group, social constructivism focuses on an individual's learning that takes place because of his or her interactions in a group.

Social constructionism

Social constructionism is a theory of knowledge in sociology and communication theory that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world that form the basis for shared assumptions about reality. The theory centers on the notion that meanings are developed in coordination with others rather than separately within each individual.

A very simple example is an object like a cup. The object can be used for many things, but its shape does suggest some 'knowledge' about carrying liquids (see also Affordance). A more complex example is an online course—not only do the 'shapes' of the software tools indicate certain things about the way online courses should work, but the activities and texts produced within the group as a whole will help shape how each person behaves within that group. A person's cognitive development will also be influenced by the culture that he or she is involved in, such as the language, history and social context.

Affordance is what the environment offers the individual. James J. Gibson, coined the term in his 1966 book, The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems, and it occurs in many of his earlier essays (e.g.). However, his best-known definition is taken from his seminal 1979 book, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception:

The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill. The verb to afford is found in the dictionary, the noun affordance is not. I have made it up. I mean by it something that refers to both the environment and the animal in a way that no existing term does. It implies the complementarity of the animal and the environment.

For a philosophical account of one possible social-constructionist ontology, see the 'Criticism' section of Representative realism. [2]

Ontology study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations

Ontology is the philosophical study of being. More broadly, it studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.


Strong social constructivism as a philosophical approach tends to suggest that "the natural world has a small or non-existent role in the construction of scientific knowledge". [3] According to Maarten Boudry and Filip Buekens, Freudian psychoanalysis is a good example of this approach in action. [4]

Maarten Boudry Belgian philosopher

Maarten Boudry is a flemish-speaking Belgian philosopher and skeptic. He has been a researcher and teaching member of the Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences at Ghent University since 2006. To date, he has published over 30 articles in various philosophy of science journals.

However, Boudry and Buekens do not claim that 'bona fide' science is completely immune from all socialisation and paradigm shifts, [5] merely that the strong social constructivist claim that all scientific knowledge is constructed ignores the reality of scientific success. [4]

One characteristic of social constructivism is that it rejects the role of superhuman necessity in either the invention/discovery of knowledge or its justification. In the field of invention it looks to contingency as playing an important part in the origin of knowledge, with historical interests and resourcing swaying the direction of mathematical and scientific knowledge growth. In the area of justification while acknowledging the role of logic and reason in testing, it also accepts that the criteria for acceptance vary and change over time. Thus mathematical proofs follow different standards in the present and throughout different periods in the past, as Paul Ernest argues. [6]

Psychology and religion

One branch of social constructivist philosophy is best represented in the works of the psychologist Robert Rocco Cottone. Cottone has taken a radical philosophical position purporting a purest relational realism (an ontology where everything is viewed as relationship). Things, accordingly, only exist in relation to observers who are able to understand their perceptions through social interchange. Cottone merged the works of the cognitive biologist Humberto Maturana with the works of the social psychologist Kenneth Gergen to produce a fully relational conception of the process of understanding experience. His most compelling concept is that of "Bracketed Absolute Truth" (also called a "consensuality"), [7] where a truth is held within a community as absolute, but outside the community it is held by observers as relative to other truths. All understanding of experience is thereby socially constructed, but different communities can construct different interpretations of their shared experience. Truths are never constructed outside of interaction—truth is social. There are as many truths on any one topic as there are communities to construct them. Some truths on one topic may be consistent and others may be contradictory, depending on the perceptual and social linguistic contexts of the groups making the interpretations. Cottone used the example of religion to make his point. [8] Different communities may have different conceptions of a god, for example, even though historically they are speaking of the same godly origin (e.g. Christianity, Judaism). Religion provides a compelling example of how people socially construct their understanding of experience by means of social-linguistic traditions. Each religion, therefore, represents a bracketed absolute truth. Cottone proposed that people operate in a matrix of multilayered consensualities and people progress through life by connecting with, disconnecting from, and continually negotiating through relationships that reflect communities of understanding (e.g., religions, professions, local communities, governments, etc.). He called this process "social trajectory". [8] This branch of social constructivist thought does not purport that individuals socially construct a reality, rather it purports that people construct understanding of experience together, not alone. In effect, there are communities of understanding.


Social constructivism has been studied by many educational psychologists, who are concerned with its implications for teaching and learning. Social constructivism extends constructivism by incorporating the role of other actors and culture in development. In this sense it can also be contrasted with social learning theory by stressing interaction over observation. For more on the psychological dimensions of social constructivism, see the work of A. Sullivan Palincsar. [9] Psychological tools are one of the key concepts in Lev Vygotsky's sociocultural perspective.

Studies on increasing the use of student discussion in the classroom both support and are grounded in theories of social constructivism. There is a full range of advantages that results from the implementation of discussion in the classroom. Participating in group discussion allows students to generalize and transfer their knowledge of classroom learning and builds a strong foundation for communicating ideas orally. [10] Many studies argue that discussion plays a vital role in increasing student ability to test their ideas, synthesize the ideas of others, and build deeper understanding of what they are learning. [10] [11] [12] [13] Large and small group discussion also affords students opportunities to exercise self-regulation, self-determination, and a desire to persevere with tasks. [12] [14] Additionally, discussion increases student motivation, collaborative skills, and the ability to problem solve. [13] [14] [15] Increasing students’ opportunity to talk with one another and discuss their ideas increases their ability to support their thinking, develop reasoning skills, and to argue their opinions persuasively and respectfully. [10] Furthermore, the feeling of community and collaboration in classrooms increases through offering more chances for students to talk together. [11] [16] [17]

Given the advantages that result from discussion, it is surprising that it is not used more often. Studies have found that students are not regularly accustomed to participating in academic discourse. [12] [13] Martin Nystrand argues that teachers rarely choose classroom discussion as an instructional format. The results of Nystrand’s (1996) three-year study focusing on 2400 students in 60 different classrooms indicate that the typical classroom teacher spends under three minutes an hour allowing students to talk about ideas with one another and the teacher. [13] Even within those three minutes of discussion, most talk is not true discussion because it depends upon teacher-directed questions with predetermined answers. [12] [13] Multiple observations indicate that students in low socioeconomic schools and lower track classrooms are allowed even fewer opportunities for discussion. [11] [12] [13] Teachers who teach as if they value what their students think create learners. Discussion and interactive discourse promote learning because they afford students the opportunity to use language as a demonstration of their independent thoughts. Discussion elicits sustained responses from students that encourage meaning-making through negotiating with the ideas of others. This type of learning “promotes retention and in-depth processing associated with the cognitive manipulation of information”. [13]

One recent branch of work exploring social constructivist perspectives on learning focuses on the role of social technologies and social media in facilitating the generation of socially constructed knowledge and understanding in online environments. [18]

Academic writing

In a constructivist approach, the focus is on the sociocultural conventions of academic discourse such as citing evidence, hedging and boosting claims, interpreting the literature to back one's own claims, and addressing counter claims. These conventions are inherent to a constructivist approach as they place value on the communicative, interpersonal nature of academic writing with a strong focus on how the reader receives the message. The act of citing others’ work is more than accurate attribution; it is an important exercise in critical thinking in the construction of an authorial self. [1] [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Learning theory (education) conceptual frameworks in which knowledge is absorbed, processed, and retained during learning

Learning Theory describe how students absorb, process, and retain knowledge during learning. Cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences, as well as prior experience, all play a part in how understanding, or a world view, is acquired or changed and knowledge and skills retained.

A teaching method comprises the principles and methods used by teachers to enable student learning. These strategies are determined partly on subject matter to be taught and partly by the nature of the learner. For a particular teaching method to be appropriate and efficient it has to be in relation with the characteristic of the learner and the type of learning it is supposed to bring about. Suggestions are there to design and selection of teaching methods must take into account not only the nature of the subject matter but also how students learn. In today's school the trend is that it encourages a lot of creativity. It is a known fact that human advancement comes through reasoning. This reasoning and original thought enhances creativity.

Constructivism may refer to:

Science education is the field concerned with sharing science content and process with individuals not traditionally considered part of the scientific community. The learners may be children, college students, or adults within the general public; the field of science education includes work in science content, science process, some social science, and some teaching pedagogy. The standards for science education provide expectations for the development of understanding for students through the entire course of their K-12 education and beyond. The traditional subjects included in the standards are physical, life, earth, space, and human sciences.

Instructional scaffolding is the support given to a student by an instructor throughout the learning process. This support is specifically tailored to each student; this instructional approach allows students to experience student-centered learning, which tends to facilitate more efficient learning than teacher-centered learning. This learning process promotes a deeper level of learning than many other common teaching strategies.

Constructivist epistemology is a branch in philosophy of science maintaining that scientific knowledge is constructed by the scientific community, who seek to measure and construct models of the natural world. Natural science therefore consists of mental constructs that aim to explain sensory experience and measurements.

Active learning is a form of learning in which teaching strives to involve students in the learning process more directly than in other methods.

Constructivism (philosophy of education) Philosophical viewpoint about the nature of knowledge; theory of knowledge

Constructivism in education is an epistemological perspective of learning focused on how students actively create knowledge out of their experiences. Emphasis is placed on agency and prior "knowing" and experience of the learner, which is often determined by their social and cultural contexts environment. While Behaviorist models of learning may help understand what students are doing, educators also need to know what students are thinking, and how to enrich what students are thinking.

Paul Ernest is a contributor to the social constructivist philosophy of mathematics.

Constructionism (learning theory) learning theory involving the construction of mental models

Constructionist learning is when learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. Constructionism advocates student-centered, discovery learning where students use information they already know to acquire more knowledge. Students learn through participation in project-based learning where they make connections between different ideas and areas of knowledge facilitated by the teacher through coaching rather than using lectures or step-by-step guidance. Further, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are active in making tangible objects in the real world. In this sense, constructionism is connected with experiential learning and builds on Jean Piaget's epistemological theory of constructivism.

Constructivist teaching is based on constructivist learning theory. Constructivist teaching is based on the belief that learning occurs as learners are actively involved in a process of meaning and knowledge construction as opposed to passively receiving information. Learners are the makers of meaning and knowledge.

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a pedagogical approach where in learning takes place via social interaction using a computer or through the Internet. This kind of learning is characterized by the sharing and construction of knowledge among participants using technology as their primary means of communication or as a common resource. CSCL can be implemented in online and classroom learning environments and can take place synchronously or asynchronously.

A Knowledge Building Community (KBC) is a community in which the primary goal is knowledge creation rather than the construction of specific products or the completion of tasks. This notion is fundamental in Knowledge building theory. If knowledge is not realized for a community then we do not have knowledge building. Examples of KBCs are

Contextual learning is based on a constructivist theory of teaching and learning. Learning takes place when teachers are able to present information in such a way that students are able to construct meaning based on their own experiences. Contextual learning experiences include internships, service learning and study abroad programs.

In psychology, constructivism refers to many schools of thought that, though extraordinarily different in their techniques, are all connected by a common critique of previous standard approaches, and by shared assumptions about the active constructive nature of human knowledge. In particular, the critique is aimed at the "associationist" postulate of empiricism, "by which the mind is conceived as a passive system that gathers its contents from its environment and, through the act of knowing, produces a copy of the order of reality".

Cognitive Emotional Pedagogy (CEP) is a method of teaching and learning based on cognitive psychology and constructivist learning theory which claims that construction and retention of new concepts and skills is most effective if the learning content is associated with creativity and emotionally distinct experiences. The theoretical framework was created by Joni Mäkivirta.

Second-language acquisition classroom research is an area of research in second-language acquisition concerned with how people learn languages in educational settings. There is a significant overlap between classroom research and language education. Classroom research is empirical, basing its findings on data and statistics wherever possible. It is also more concerned with what the learners do in the classroom than with what the teacher does. Where language teaching methods may only concentrate on the activities the teacher plans for the class, classroom research concentrates on the effect the things the teacher does has on the students.

Constructivism has been considered as a dominant paradigm, or research programme, in the field of science education. The term constructivism is widely used in many fields, and not always with quite the same intention. This entry offers an account of how constructivism is most commonly understood in science education.

Martin Nystrand is an American composition and education theorist. He is Louise Durham Mead Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Professor Emeritus of Education at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.


  1. 1 2 McKinley, J. (2015). "Critical Argument and Writer Identity: Social Constructivism as a Theoretical Framework for EFL Academic Writing" (PDF). Critical Inquiry in Language Studies. 12 (3): 184–207. doi:10.1080/15427587.2015.1060558 . Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  2. See also Wright, Edmond (2005) Narrative, Perception, Language, and Faith. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 103–120.
  3. Collins, H. M. (1981). "Stages in the Empirical Program of Relativism - Introduction". Social Studies of Science. 11 (1): 3. doi:10.1177/030631278101100101.
  4. 1 2 Boudry, M & Buekens, F (2011) The Epistemic Predicament of a Pseudoscience: Social Constructivism Confronts Freudian Psychoanalysis. Theoria, 77, 159–179
  5. Kuhn, T (1962) Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago University Press.
  6. Ernest, Paul (1998), Social Constructivism as a Philosophy of Mathematics, Albany NY: SUNY Press.
  7. Cottone, R. R. (2012). "Paradigms of Counseling and Psychotherapy".
  8. 1 2 Cottone, R. R. (2011). "Toward a positive psychology of religion: Belief science in the postmodern era." Winchester, UK: John Hunt Publishing
  9. Palincsar, A.S. (1998). Social constructivist perspectives on teaching and learning. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 345–375.
  10. 1 2 3 Reznitskaya, A., Anderson, R.C., and Kuo, L.J. (2007). Teaching and Learning Argumentation. Elementary School Journal, 107: 449–472.
  11. 1 2 3 K. Weber, C. Maher, A. Powell, and H. Lee (2008). Learning opportunities from group discussions: Warrants become the objects of debate. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 68, 247-261.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 Corden, R.E. (2001). Group discussion and the importance of a shared perspective: Learning from collaborative research. Qualitative Research, 1(3), 347-367.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Nystrand, M. (1996). Opening dialogue: Understanding the dynamics of language and learning in the English classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.
  14. 1 2 Matsumura, L.C., Slater, S.C., & Crosson, A. (2008). Classroom climate, rigorous instruction and curriculum, and students’ interactions in urban middle schools. The Elementary School Journal, 108(4), 294-312.
  15. 1 2 Dyson, A. H. (2004). Writing and the sea of voices: Oral language in, around, and about writing. In R.B. Ruddell, & N.J. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading (pp. 146–162). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
  16. Barab, S., Dodge, T. Thomas, M.K., Jackson, C. & Tuzun, H. (2007). Our designs and the social agendas they carry. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 16(2), 263-305.
  17. Hale, M.S. & City, E.A. (2002). “But how do you do that?”: Decision making for the seminar facilitator. In J. Holden & J.S. Schmit. Inquiry and the literary text: Constructing discussions in the English classroom / Classroom practices in teaching English, volume 32. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
  18. Dougiamas, M. (1998, November). A journey into Constructivism.

Further reading