Learning Theories: Understanding Constructivism and Social Constructionism


In the chapter “Learning Theories,” the authors present their audience with a number of theories associated with learning. The article begins with a discussion of the language of learning theory, specifically referring to the “transparency” and “invisibility” of the term theory itself (Davis, 6). The chapter then discusses two learning systems: complicated and complex (8). Complicated systems are mechanical and formed by placing together ideas (or objects) in a specified order, while complex systems extend beyond their components and, in a sense, are infinitely in a state of growth and “aliveness”Ã? (9). In the past, psychologists have approached learning in terms of complicated systems (considering classical and operant conditioning), but considering complex learning systems has become increasingly popular and widely accepted (12-16). Theories of complex learning “suggest that learning is dependent on, but cannot be determined by teaching” (18). The authors present a number of approaches to understanding, including constructivism, social constructionism, and even ecological theories (19-24). The authors then extend the discussion of learning and learning processes to the concept of memory. Personal memory (short-term and long-term) involves developing associations, but long-term memories also work in terms of habituation and sensitization (28-29). Finally, the idea of collective memory, its self-similar relationship to personal memory, the written word, and the learning process of the human species as a whole, is discussed (30-32).


The article begins by discussing the “transparency” of the term “theory”Ã? (6). I would like to extend this idea of transparency to the term learning as well. So how does one approach learning theories if the idea in itself is abstract and difficult to fully understand? For me, this understanding of learning relates to complexity, because it is ever-changing and growing and there is no way to fully comprehend. It’s like, for example, the understanding of abstract concepts like love or God. There will always be room to understand more, no matter how much learning occurs on the topic.

When the authors discuss the idea of mind and body separation, with relationship to the behaviorist and mentalist theories, I also believe, in tune with the “more recent discourses”Ã?, that the mind and body cannot be separated (17). I grew up with a strong passion for dance, with a focus on tap and ballet. The way that we receive information, through our eyes and our ears and the rest of our senses, is initially external, and the way we process things cannot be limited to the internal processes of the mind, but to the body as a whole. Our ability to produce through our senses proves that learning extends far beyond the internal processes of the mind, if simply for the fact that learning is enhanced by external things.

The authors introduce the topic of social constructionism by stating: “we are usually better thinkers in the presence of others” (21). I think that this is important for teachers to consider when they are considering their approach to teaching. I never felt as though I was pushing my mind and learning under the best possible conditions until fourth-year University, during a Seminar-style class. The competition that occurs between peers at this level is intense, and I feel as though competition, and the intrinsic desire to be better than my peers is what drove this level of learning.

How do we implement and promote healthy discussion and competition between peers, in order to enhance their learning?


Davis, Brent, Dennis J. Sumara, and Rebecca Luce-Kapler. Engaging Minds: Changing Teaching in Complex Times. “Learning Theories.” Psychology Press.

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