Educational Robotics and Constructionism (Papert)

Summary: Constructionism as a learning theory emphasizes student-centered discovery learning, and educators are currently expanding its reach to the field of educational robotics in order to engage students.

Originators and Key Contributors: Seymour Papert took Piaget’s theory of constructivism and adapted it into his theory of constructionism.

Keywords: constructivism, constructionism, learning theory, discovery learning, educational robotics, technology



Online Collaborative Learning Theory (Harasim)

Summary: Online collaborative learning theory, or OCL, is a form of constructivist teaching that takes the form of instructor-led group learning online. In OCL, students are encouraged to collaboratively solve problems through discourse instead of memorizing correct answers. The teacher plays a crucial role as a facilitator as well as a member of the knowledge community under study.

Originators and Key Contributors:

Linda Harasim, professor at the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, developed online collaborative learning theory (OCL) in 2012[1]from a theory originally called computer-mediated communication (CMC), or networked learning[2][3][4].

Keywords: collaborative learning, internet, virtual classroom, e-learning, discourse, constructivism



Learner-centered design

Summary: Learner centered design focuses on creating software for heterogeneous groups of learners who need scaffolding as they learn while completing constructivist activities.

Originators and Key Contributors: Elliot Soloway, Mark Guzdian, Kenneth E. Hay

Keywords: constructivism, learner-centered design, learners, scaffolding, software

Learner-centered Design

Learner-centered design (LCD) theory emphasizes the importance of supporting the learners’ growth and motivational needs in designing software[1]. In addition, since learners have different learning needs and learn in different ways, the software must be designed for the specific learner-audience.

The concept of scaffolds is central to learner-centered design. In order to support learners optimally, software should be designed with scaffolds that will support the learners as they need it. Examples of scaffolds in software are hints, explanation and encouragement to help learners understand a process, and questions to help learners reflect on what they are learning[2].

Software scaffolds that support learners best are adaptive, meaning that they change according to what the learner needs in any learning moment. When a learner needs more support, the software provides an increase in feedback to help the learner grow, stay engaged, and progress in mastering a skill. When the learner is reaching mastery, the software will provide reduced scaffolds in response to the learner’s increased skill level.

In focusing on learner-centered design, four elements must be addressed in designing the software. They are:

  1. Context: The goal, purpose, and audience of the software
  2. Interface: The front end and/or aesthetics of the software that learners interact with
  3. Tasks: What the learners will do in the software
  4. Tools: What is needed in the software to support the tasks that students will do; these can include scaffolds

Designing software from a LCD perspective keeps the learner in mind and, if done well, provides an effective and meaningful learning experience[3].

For more information on learner-centered design, read The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences.


  1. Soloway, E., Guzdial, M., & Hay, K. E. (1994). Learner-centered design: The challenge for HCI in the 21st century. interactions, 1(2), 36-48.
  2. Soloway, Elliot, et al. “Learning theory in practice: Case studies of learner-centered design.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems. ACM, 1996.
  3. Quintana, C., Carra, A., Krajcik, J., & Soloway, E. (2001). Learner-centered design: Reflections and new directions.


Constructivism as a paradigm or worldview posits that learning is an active, constructive process. The learner is an information constructor. People actively construct or create their own subjective representations of objective reality. New information is linked to to prior knowledge, thus mental representations are subjective.


Key Concepts

A reaction to didactic approaches such as behaviorism and programmed instruction, constructivism states that learning is an active, contextualized process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring it. Knowledge is constructed based on personal experiences and hypotheses of the environment. Learners continuously test these hypotheses through social negotiation. Each person has a different interpretation and construction of knowledge process. The learner is not a blank slate (tabula rasa) but brings past experiences and cultural factors to a situation[3][4].

NOTE: A common misunderstanding regarding constructivism is that instructors should never tell students anything directly but, instead, should always allow them to construct knowledge for themselves. This is actually confusing a theory of pedagogy (teaching) with a theory of knowing. Constructivism assumes that all knowledge is constructed from the learner’s previous knowledge, regardless of how one is taught. Thus, even listening to a lecture involves active attempts to construct new knowledge.

Vygotsky’s social development theory is one of the foundations for constructivism.

Additional Resources and References



  1. Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard university press.
  2. Piaget, J. (2013). The construction of reality in the child (Vol. 82). Routledge.
  3. Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective.Performance improvement quarterly, 6(4), 50-72.
  4. Cooper, P. A. (1993). Paradigm Shifts in Designed Instruction: From Behaviorism to Cognitivism to Constructivism. Educational technology, 33(5), 12-19.



Connectivism (Siemens, Downes)

Summary: Connectivism is a learning theory that explains how Internet technologies have created new opportunities for people to learn and share information across the World Wide Web and among themselves.

Originators & Proponents: George Siemens, Stephen Downes

Keywords: communication, connection, distributed cognition, distributed learning, information, Internet, knowledge sharing, links, massive open online course (MOOC), nodes, online, open educational resources (OER), social networks


Connectivism is a learning theory that explains how Internet technologies have created new opportunities for people to learn and share information across the World Wide Web and among themselves. These technologies include Web browsers, email, wikis, online discussion forums, social networks, YouTube, and any other tool which enables the users to learn and share information with other people.

A key feature of connectivism is that much learning can happen across peer networks that take place online. In connectivist learning, a teacher will guide students to information and answer key questions as needed, in order to support students learning and sharing on their own. Students are also encouraged to seek out information on their own online and express what they find. A connected community around this shared information often results.



Anchored Instruction (Bransford, Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbilt)

Summary: Anchored Instruction involves the use of an “anchor” material or media, often a video, to create a shared experience among learners and a beginning point for further learning on a topic.

Originators & Proponents: Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV), John D. Bransford

Keywords: anchor, case-based learning, case study, curriculum, discussion, shared experience, situated cognition, social learning, technology, video

Anchored instruction (Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbilt, Bransford)

Anchored instruction involves the use of an “anchor” material or piece of media, often a video, to create a shared experience among learners and a beginning point for further learning on a topic[1]. The anchor video should support a few key instructional objectives. It should be:



Social Development Theory (Vygotsky)

Social Development Theory argues that social interaction precedes development; consciousness and cognition are the end product of socialization and social behavior.


  • Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)

Key Concepts

Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory is the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)[1][2]. Vygotsky’s work was largely unkown to the West until it was published in 1962.

Vygotsky’s theory is one of the foundations of constructivism. It asserts three major themes regarding social interaction, the more knowledgeable other, and the zone of proximal development.

Social Interaction

Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development. In contrast to Jean Piaget’s understanding of child development (in which development necessarily precedes learning), Vygotsky felt social learning precedes development. He states: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological)”.[2]

The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO)

The MKO refers to anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept. The MKO is normally thought of as being a teacher, coach, or older adult, but the MKO could also be peers, a younger person, or even computers.

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

The ZPD is the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult guidance and/or with peer collaboration and the student’s ability solving the problem independently. According to Vygotsky, learning occurred in this zone.

Vygotsky focused on the connections between people and the sociocultural context in which they act and interact in shared experiences[3]. According to Vygotsky, humans use tools that develop from a culture, such as speech and writing, to mediate their social environments. Initially children develop these tools to serve solely as social functions, ways to communicate needs. Vygotsky believed that the internalization of these tools led to higher thinking skills.

Applications of the Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory

Many schools have traditionally held a transmissionist or instructionist model in which a teacher or lecturer ‘transmits’ information to students. In contrast, Vygotsky’s theory promotes learning contexts in which students play an active role in learning. Roles of the teacher and student are therefore shifted, as a teacher should collaborate with his or her students in order to help facilitate meaning construction in students. Learning therefore becomes a reciprocal experience for the students and teacher.

Additional Resources and References


  • Luis C. Moll: L.S. Vygotsky and Education (Routledge Key Ideas in Education): An accessible, introductory volume that provides a good summary of Vygtoskian core concepts, including the sociocultural genesis of human thinking, a developmental approach to studying human thinking, and the power of cultural mediation in understanding and transforming educational practices. Well written and worth a look.


  1. Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard university press.
  2. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interaction between learning and development.Readings on the development of children, 23(3), 34-41.
  3. Crawford, K. (1996). Vygotskian approaches in human development in the information era. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 31(1-2), 43-62.

Stage Theory of Cognitive Development (Piaget)

Piaget’s Stage Theory of Cognitive Development is a description of cognitive development as four distinct stages in children: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete, and formal.


  • Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

Key Concepts

Swiss biologist and psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) observed his children (and their process of making sense of the world around them) and eventually developed a four-stage model of how the mind processes new information encountered[1][2][3]. He posited that children progress through 4 stages and that they all do so in the same order. These four stages are:

Sensorimotor stage (Birth to 2 years old)

The infant builds an understanding of himself or herself and reality (and how things work) through interactions with the environment. It is able to differentiate between itself and other objects. Learning takes place via assimilation (the organization of information and absorbing it into existing schema) and accommodation (when an object cannot be assimilated and the schemata have to be modified to include the object.

Preoperational stage (ages 2 to 4)

The child is not yet able to conceptualize abstractly and needs concrete physical situations. Objects are classified in simple ways, especially by important features.

Concrete operations (ages 7 to 11)

As physical experience accumulates, accomodation is increased. The child begins to think abstractly and conceptualize, creating logical structures that explain his or her physical experiences.

Formal operations (beginning at ages 11 to 15)

Cognition reaches its final form. By this stage, the person no longer requires concrete objects to make rational judgements. He or she is capable of deductive and hypothetical reasoning. His or her ability for abstract thinking is very similar to an adult.

Additional Resources and References



  1. Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children (Vol. 8, No. 5, pp. 18-1952). New York: International Universities Press.
  2. Piaget, J. (1959). The language and thought of the child (Vol. 5). Psychology Press. Chicago
  3. Piaget, J. (1976). Piaget’s theory. In Piaget and his school (pp. 11-23). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Communities of Practice (Lave and Wenger)

Summary: Etienne Wenger summarizes Communities of Practice (CoP) as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” This learning that takes place is not necessarily intentional. Three components are required in order to be a CoP: (1) the domain, (2) the community, and (3) the practice.

Originators: Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in 1991 and further elaborated in 1998.

Key Terms: domain, community, practice, identity, learning



Discovery Learning (Bruner)

Discovery Learning is a method of inquiry-based instruction, discovery learning believes that it is best for learners to discover facts and relationships for themselves.


  • Jerome Bruner (1915 – )

Key Concepts

Discovery learning is an inquiry-based, constructivist learning theory that takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his or her own past experience and existing knowledge to discover facts and relationships and new truths to be learned[1]. Students interact with the world by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments.

As a result, students may be more more likely to remember concepts and knowledge discovered on their own (in contrast to a transmissionist model)[2]. Models that are based upon discovery learning model include: guided discovery, problem-based learning, simulation-based learning, case-based learning, incidental learning, among others.

The theory is closely related to work by Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert.

Proponents of this theory believe that discovery learning:

  • encourages active engagement
  • promotes motivation
  • promotes autonomy, responsibility, independence
  • develops creativity and problem solving skills.
  • tailors learning experiences

Critics believe that discovery learning:

  • creates cognitive overload
  • may result in potential misconceptions
  • makes it difficult for teachers to detect problems and misconceptions

Additional Resources and References


  1. Bruner, J. S. (1961). The act of discovery. Harvard educational review.
  2. Bruner, J. S. (2009). The process of education. Harvard University Press.