Taking into account the complexity and multiplicity of constructivist theories, the first part of this chapter focuses on the relationship between epistemology and pedagogy in constructivism, in particular in the radical constructivist position of von Glasersfeld, which is considered a significant referent in constructivism. To overcome some of the shortcomings of radical constructivism, the author have then explored the origins of constructivist theory and practice in the work of John Dewey, whose ideas could be still a source of inspiration for constructivist educational practice. The second part of this chapter analyses the social constructivist development in different internet-based learning platforms and social software and considers at the end some practical difficulties and benefits of online learning for the implementation of constructivist learning theories for learners as teachers.
The definition of constructivist theory or constructivism is an issue in itself. Constructivism has become such a complex topic that just the effort to clarify the different positions and trends is enough to serve as the main subject of some papers where the authors have tried to put some structure into the enormous range of definitions, sections and positions regarding constructivism (Phillips, 2005; Riegler, 2005; Steffe &Gale,1995). It is not the purpose of this paper to do so, I will however give a brief overview of the complexity and multidimensionality of this field.
The difficulty of defining “constructivism” starts with the question whether constructivism is a theory, an approach, or a perspective. For von Glasersfeld constructivism is a way of thinking (von Glasersfeld (1985, 1992), for Siebert it is a metatheory (Siebert, 2004), Huitt considers the constructivist approach to teaching and learning as based on a combination of cognitive psychology and social psychology (Huitt, 2003), Dougiamas talks about the faces of constructivism (Dougiamas, 1998) as does Philips, considering constructivism as a secular religion within educational theory (Phillips, 1995) or even a magic word (Phillips, 2000) and Duit (1993) regards it as a fashionable and fruitful paradigm. What seems clear from all these studies is that, as Horst Siebert (2005) puts it, constructivism is not a scientific discipline in itself but an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary “Paradigma,” it is a perspective in which reality depends on the observer.
Common to all the approaches and different definitions is the source of the term “constructivism,” which is a metaphor of architecture, and is about the building up of structures from pre-existing pieces, possibly specially shaped for the task. This metaphor, as Ernest (1995) points out, describes understanding as the building of mental structures, and it is also contained in the term “restructuring,” often used as synonym for accommodation or conceptual change. Ernest also notes a relevant feature of this metaphor: the building blocks are not merely received, they are products of previous acts of construction.
A fundamental component of constructivism is action: knowing is an active process, learners are not passive receivers of learning contents. As Glasersfeld (1989) formulates the first principle of constructivism: “Knowledge is not passively received but actively built up by the cognizing subject” (p.182).