Editor: Richard Noss, London Knowledge Lab, IOE, University of London
Constructionism is a theory of learning and construction of meaning by engaging in the making of concrete and public entities, either material objects or tangible representations.
Comments on history
Seymour Papert launched the idea of constructionism in the mid-nineteen eighties. The central idea is that a powerful way for learners to build knowledge structures in their minds, is to build with external representations, to construct physical or virtual entities that can be shared. While the constructionist project is presented like a pedagogical theory (i.e. constructionism Vs instructionism in Papert and Harel terms, ibid.), it is as much a theory of epistemology as one of pedagogy, seeking to develop knowledge structures in the mind alongside physical or virtual structures external to the mind. Understanding the development of the structure of knowledge is part of and integral to the encouragement of an inclusive and powerful pedagogic theory and practice advocated by Papert.
Defining “constructionism” would be “oxymoronic” following the inventors of this neologism “ since, after all, constructionism boils down to demanding that everything be understood by being constructed.”
- “The simplest definition of constructionism evokes the idea of learning-by-making” (Harel & Papert 1991 p.1)
- “Constructionism – the N word as opposed to the V word – shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as “building knowledge structures” irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe” (Harel & Papert 1991 p.1).
Whereas the theoretical concept of constructivism, introduced by Piaget in the mid-twentieth century, captures the psychological substrate on which all learning (irrespective of teaching) is built, the idea of constructionism sought to develop a theory of pedagogy that could foster learning.
Harel I., Papert S. (eds.) (1991). Constructionism. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation [the first chapter is available here http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html and http://namodemello.com.br/pdf/tendencias/situatingconstrutivism.pdf