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Cognitive Constructivism

In this article, discover Cognitive Constructionist learning theory and its associated teaching style. How relevant is it in the network age?
Graphic representation of teacher and student in a science research laboratory.
© University of Southampton

Our next picture represents the second learning theory – Cognitive Constructivism.

This theory considers knowledge as contained in a series of ‘mental maps’ – or schema – inside our brains. As we experience new things, we make sense of them by using our current mental map.

However, by ourselves, we reach a new understanding by actively reconstructing our mental maps to accommodate the new information gained from an experience through dynamic mental processes (thinking), not by passively learning a set of automatic behavioural responses.

Read this brief summary of the key concepts of Cognitivism by K. Davey, an author at

Teaching and learning

This theory suggests that actively discovering new information by individually doing things will lead to the construction of knowledge inside our brain.

For example, if we run into a wall a few times and fall over, after reflecting on how much it hurts, we reconstruct our mental map to know that this is not the way to reach the other side. So, we might try climbing the wall instead.

However, the process of reaching the other side might be accelerated by having someone around to guide us and help with the resources we need – if someone gave us a ladder after we ran into the wall, we would reach the other side faster and less painfully!

This way of teaching & learning is known as Experiential and the teacher acts as a guide, not as ‘the expert’. You can read more about this in another article by K. Davey.


This approach is dependent on the existing knowledge of the learner (their current mental maps), which cannot always be considered equal. The learner also needs high levels of self-motivation and good self-reflection skills.

What are your experiences of teaching and learning in this way?
How relevant is Cognitive Constructivism / Experiential learning to the network age?

Key thinkers

Kolb, D.A. (1984): Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Perry, William G. (1999). Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children (Vol. 8, No. 5, pp. 18-1952). New York: International Universities Press. Chicago

Piaget, J. (1976). Piaget’s theory. In Piaget and his school (pp. 11-23). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Chicago

© University of Southampton
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