Publication 6912

Winn W. D. (1991) The assumptions of constructivism and instructional design. Educational Technology 31(9): 38–40. Fulltext at
Excerpt: The idea that knowledge is constructed is not new. The dynamic nature of learning and the mediation of new knowledge by old are now generally accepted (Gagne, 1985; Gagne and Glaser, 1987). Yet the articles by the “constructivists” appearing in the May (1991) special issue of Educational Technology, and the replies to them by instructional designers, suggest that there is something new afoot that promises to generate debate and perhaps even to change the way we go about making instructional decisions. Why this debate should occur now is not serendipitous. Our ability to provide cognitive accounts of skill and knowledge acquisition have led instructional designers to develop cognitive theories of instruction and instructional design (Bonner, 1988; DiVesta and Rieber, 1987; Tennyson and Rasch, 1988). However, it seems that instructional designers have been reluctant to abandon their traditional assumptions, and particularly the procedures of instructional design, to accommodate the new ideas about learning. The evident autonomy of learners in knowledge construction makes it difficult (Winn, 1989, 1990) if not impossible (Streibel, 1989) to predict how they will learn or to plan instructional activities. A real accommodation of instructional design to cognitive theory therefore requires a change in the assumptions about how people learn and about how instructional decisions are made. The articles in the special issue of Educational Technology describe projects that are based on a different set of assumptions than those underlying traditional instructional design. For that reason they deserve our careful attention. The purpose of this article is to talk about three of these assumptions and to point out how they could lead to a reconceptualization of some aspects of instructional design so as to make it more responsive to constructivist accounts of learning.

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