Pantel, C. (1997). Educational Theory. A Framework for Comparing Web-Based Learning Environments.
Chapter 2 of Masters Thesis: Simon Fraser University.
Abstracted by Vaibhavi Gala
copyright _1999 Board of Trustees Leland Stanford Junior University.

THE RESPONSE STRENGTHENING MODEL, which influenced the first half of this century, lays emphasis on the role of feedback to enhance learning.

Knowledge is considered to be the associations people make between stimuli and responses. Drill and practice was the instructional method of choice by the proponents of this theory.

THE INFORMATION PROCESSING MODEL proposes that knowledge is a definite entity that can be transferred from one person to another. This assumption gave rise to didactic instruction and classical instructional design with lecturing as the prevalent instructional technique.

CONSTRUCTIVISM came into light in the early 1980s and proposes that knowledge is 'constructed' individually in a person's mind. Individuals have their own mental framework, which is a function of their beliefs, past experiences and knowledge. When a person comes across new information, he understands and assimilates it in the context of his existing mental structures thereby constructing new knowledge. Hence, learning is seen as a process of internal negotiation of meaning.

Under constructivism the goal of instruction is to help learners 'develop learning and thinking strategies' and evaluation of learning outcomes consists of 'determining how the student structures and processes knowledge'. Constructivism propagates creating a learning environment that facilitates higher-order thinking and metacognition (awareness of one's own cognitive abilities and the ability to apply them to the task at hand). It shifts cognitive labor such as analysis and synthesis of information from teachers to the learners. Constructivists advocate that students be allowed and encouraged to take ownership of their learning thus ensuring that learning activities are more authentic and meaningful to them.

Within the constructivist community there seems to be agreement that constructivist learning environments are good for advanced knowledge acquisition. There is no consensus however, on its appropriateness for lower levels of education, which involve introductory knowledge acquisition

SOCIOCULTURAL THEORIES are rooted in constructivism but they focus on the role of community and environment in the creation of knowledge as opposed to the constructivist focus on internal negotiation of meaning. They acquiesce that meaning can vary but contend that it is defined by the community of practitioners, which uses it. Thus, knowledge resides in communities. Meaning-making is the result of active participation in socially, culturally, historically, and politically situated contexts. Socioculturalism is more extreme in its beliefs than situated learning in that it focuses on the development of the collective knowledge of a community as opposed to the development of individuals' knowledge within a community.

Adherents to the sociocultural theories of learning, like constructivists, argue that it is important to reflect the complexity of the application domain in the learning environment. This would contribute to the authenticity of the learning activities.

INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNIQUES based on the constructivist and sociocultural theories include:


The author provides a reasonable account of the contemporary educational theories of constructivism and socioculturalism (though he has not elaborated on situated learning, a variant of socioculturalism). Understanding the theoretical framework which describes the meaning of knowledge and the process of learning would enable the Learning Lab personnel to form their own informed opinions about the models, reflect on what a learning environment should support and articulate their reasoning for the basis of the variousÜprojects. It would also inform the design of the framework for future endeavors.


Last update: Jan 2000- Claude Aflalo
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