Publication 6735

Winn W. (1993) A constructivist critique of the assumptions of instructional design. In: Duffy T. M., Lowyck J. & Jonassen D. H. (eds.) Designing environments for constructive learning. Springer-Verlag, Berlin: 189–212. Fulltext at
Any analysis of constructivism is difficult because there is a great range of ideas and a great variety of theoretical positions whose proponents call “constructivist”. The idea that is common to all these flavors of constructivism is that students construct knowledge for themselves. The divergence of opinion among constructivists arises from differences in perception of the instructional implications of this basic tenet. For some, knowledge construction requires little more than the addition of coaching or help systems to traditional instructional strategies. For others who take a more radical position, knowledge construction implies that each of us knows the world in a different way, that there is therefore no shared objective world to teach about, and that consequently instructional analysis and prescription make no difference to what and how students learn. I must also point out that there is great diversity in the opinions and theoretical stances of instructional designers. These range from hard-core behaviorism to a cognitive orientation which, adopting the same tenet of knowledge construction, coincides with the position of “moderate” constructivists, as Merrill (1991) has pointed out. Only at their extremes are the positions of constructivists and instructional designers truly adversarial. Yet extremism has its uses. It helps clarify fuzzy issues by throwing differences of opinion into sharper relief, and it occasions useful debate (Cunningham, 1991b). This chapter therefore characterizes both constructivism and instructional design in terms that some might find extreme. In much of what follows, constructivism is portrayed as mistrusting claims for the existence of an objective world, and discounting the predictability of human behavior. On the other hand, instructional design is assumed to espouse both objectivism and predictability, and to use theory and tools that embody these very assumptions to analyze, prescribe and assess instruction. Only in the last section of this chapter will a more moderate stance appear, allowing us to identify ways in which instructional design can contribute to the efforts of constructivists.

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