The potential implications of a paradigm shift in learning theory from a cognitivist point of view to the social-constructivist point of view are significant and far reaching for research in the field of instructional design (ID). Such a rethinking of learning and knowledge could cause a major shift in current research agendas away from the self-contained, disembodied training and instructional paradigms currently employed and toward learning that happens within the actual context of the work to be done. This chapter will attempt to capture the differences in ID research considerations made necessary by this paradigmatic shift in our understanding of what knowledge is. The implications of this new theory will be considered through a comparison of current trends in the field of ID with a model of ID as imagined under the social-constructivist paradigm set forth by Cook and Brown (1999) and Lave and Wenger (1999).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Knowing: Under a social-constructivist learning paradigm, knowing is equated to having actively acquired knowledge through action. Thus, knowing something under this model includes a rich, contextual understanding and ability to use your knowledge within its intended context.
Knowledge: Under a social-constructivist learning paradigm, “knowledge” is equated to having factual or procedural information about a topic.
Cognitivism: Cognitivism is a learning theory according to which mental processes mediate learning and learning entails the construction or reshaping of mental schemata. Cognitivists believe that knowledge resides in complex memory structures in the human mind called schemata, and learning is the process of changing these structures. ID from a cognitivist perspective focuses on presenting learners with the appropriate information and feedback to shape their mental schemata.
Learning: Learning is a term used across the three psychological paradigms discussed (behaviorism, cognitivism and social-constructivism) and learning is simply the process by which people come to “know” things.
Paradigmatic Shift: A paradigmatic shift, in this context, is a radical shift in the belief systems in a particular field. In this case, a shift from dehaviorism to cognitivism to social-constructivism indicates a change in the understanding of the way in which people’s minds work and subsequently how to best offer instruction.
Explicit Knowledge: Explicit knowledge is having a level of understanding that allows the knower to accurately articulate that knowledge to others.
Tacit Knowledge: Tacit knowledge is instinctual or nontransferable knowledge. A person with tacit knowledge can perform an activity (such as balancing on a bicycle) but is unable to articulate a specific strategy for accomplishing the act.
Behaviorism: Behaviorism is a theory of learning that equates learning with changes in observable behavior. Under this model, people learn by responding to stimuli in their environment. Through a repetitive schedule of reinforcement, the results become routine and “learning” occurs. The best way to facilitate behaviorist learning with ID is, therefore, to provide the learner with the appropriate stimuli to elicit the proper response and to repeat the process until the response becomes automatic.
Social-Constructivism: Social-constructivism is a learning theory that focuses on learning as an active process of constructing, rather than acquiring knowledge. Under a social-constructivist paradigm, instruction is a process of supporting knowledge construction rather than communicating knowledge. Cook et al. (1999) expand the scope of constructivism to include a definition of knowledge and learning that incorporates an active and collective notion of knowledge and knowing.