Skip main navigation

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 learning-theories.com.

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.

Considerations

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
This article is from the free online

Learning in the Network Age

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education