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Knowledge construction and technology.

The main goal of this article is to offer a current analysis of the research about the design of virtual environments of learning from a constructivist approach. The great proliferation of virtual environments for learning in different levels and educational areas has contributed to an increase of research about the most appropriate instructional design. Constructivism is currently a common label for multiple approaches. The main goal of this article is to show the multiplicity of this approach to maintain that the main virtue of it, is to provide a complex environment that can help improve the education necessary to live in our digital society.


Throughout the twentieth century, educational psychology and pedagogy have concentrated to a large extent on research into learning and the teaching models most suitable for learning in formal educational situations. It was a productive century in terms of studies and different perspectives. However, the basic theoretical models on which research was based did not change a great deal in this period. In fact, the major paradigms regarding learning are still with us, and arguments and contradictory positions have appeared around defenders and detractors of these different approaches--behaviourists versus cognitivists, cognitivists versus constructivists, behaviourists versus constructivists, and so forth.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education has been in refuting or disputing many of these theories, with the design of technology-based materials (from computer-aided teaching to Internet learning) as a starting point. The field of educational technology has reopened many debates concerning the most appropriate teaching methods and how the media is a learning resource. For this reason, debates in the field of instructive design are of great educational interest, going beyond merely technological areas. There is in all of them a philosophical and pedagogical vision of what education and learning should consist of. The ICTs have contributed to the development of many new working methodologies and have also led to the rediscovery of older theories, which when they were first conceived did not have access to the media or social context in which they could be developed (1).

The use of technology does not always lead to innovation and reflection on learning. In fact, as Salomon (2000) pointed out, one of the dangers is that "what is technologically possible becomes implemented and thus it becomes desirable." Technological advances are incorporated into education with no consideration for, or study of, the educational repercussions of these media. In education, as Salomon (2000) pointed out, not everything that is possible is desirable. It is necessary to let technology show us what can be produced and for the educators to then determine what should be used, when it should be used and what is the most beneficial way it should be used for personal development and learning.

The author believes that in recent years, the constructivist approach has been one of the richest seams of research and ideas regarding the use of technology, from a point of view that differs substantially from more widespread practices. The use of technology as a medium that must benefit learning and not merely as a source has been emphasized.

There have been many new ideas in recent years, including learning based on problem-solving, cooperative learning, scenario-centred learning, constructivist learning environments, the creation of microworlds, situated learning, and learning communities. All these ideas are searching for a use of technology that favors and mediates in learning, and all can be characterized by the following features:

* the use of student-centred technology, and in activities to be carried out rather than in content to be passed on;

* a great deal of importance is placed on providing tasks that are as realistic as possible; and

* technology is seen as a tool that mediates in learning; the design of virtual learning environments should be analyzed within a context of social change and evolution.

It is the author's belief that the evaluation of the use of different approaches to instructive design cannot be considered in isolation from the social changes that have taken place in recent years. Mid-twentieth century society and that of the present day have little in common, and their educational and training needs are very different. For this reason, the frequent and general complaints regarding the decline in students' general knowledge is perhaps the result of a change in the nature of learning itself, due mainly to the influence of the mass media and technology.

As Havelock (1966) pointed out, the move from an oral to a written tradition in Greece was a fundamental change in the development of western thought. Writing was a change not only in the means of communication but also in the form of consciousness itself. Writing was used to establish knowledge, social norms, and laws. "It is not creativity, whatever form it may take, but memory and reminiscence that is the key to the existence of our civilization" (Havelock, 1966, p. 104). Spoken language was established with a fixed vocabulary and order.

As a result of this change, western civilization has used written language as a source of the development of knowledge and thought itself. Rationality is affirmed by means of language itself, which organizes and orders knowledge. For this reason, McLuhan (1994) considered that western civilization in its entirety has been based on the development of the left hemisphere of the brain and this factor has contributed to the development of quantitative reasoning. In eastern culture, however, the acoustic space is projected towards the right hemisphere, and a more qualitative, holistic thinking has been developed.

The mass media and technology are structured in a fundamentally linguistic manner. Despite this, writing no longer predominates, having given way to the visual, and for this reason, significant changes in students' learning methods are beginning to appear (Tapscott, 1998). However, it is still very difficult to ascertain the changes that will take place, as both trends currently coexist. In schools, there is still a clear predominance of the left hemisphere, although in the home students educate themselves mainly by visual means.

Cognitive changes do not take place quickly. It has taken us many centuries to discover the influence of writing on thought and it is not yet possible to be sure how information and communication technologies will change our cognition. What is obvious is that this change will come not because of the occasional use of computers, but when a full adaptation to technology has taken place.

Knowledge itself, what constitutes it, and how it is spread, are also changing a great deal. As can be seen in Figure 1 knowledge, which was concentrated among specific people (experts) and places has given way to a more widespread knowledge. Knowledge was transmitted using language and written texts, but sources of knowledge are now much more widespread and access to information is much quicker and decentralised. Practical knowledge was acquired by looking at how things were done and older generations were able to teach young people how to handle tools and instruments. Today, however, it is young people who have the easiest and simplest access to handling the media, which are the main sources of information.

As previously mentioned, instructive design must respond to the educational needs and demands of today's society. For this reason, it is important to consider some of the changes that are having the greatest effects on the world of education and need a rapid response on the part of instructive design theories.

One of the most important problems facing education and training today is probably that most instructive approaches do not correspond to the needs of today's children and young people or the type of society in which they live. The separation of knowledge, the communication of information, the one-directional teacher-student model, and the idea of knowledge as something static are set against a much more dynamic and complex vision of knowledge. As Morin (1999) stated, today's teaching must become educational teaching; "it is not a question of communicating pure knowledge, but rather a culture that enables the understanding of our condition and helps us to live. The challenge of the whole is also the challenge of complexity" (p. 11). However, we learn to isolate objects, separate disciplines, solve problems, but not to relate to each other and integrate. It is difficult, especially for children, to learn to contextualize knowledge. School behaves in the opposite way to current social development--"it is not a place where knowledge is flexible, but rather the place in which some knowledge is transmitted and classified. The place in which knowledge becomes sedentary, gets older, and becomes static" (Simone, 2001, p. 41). However, knowledge is the organization, and the interrelating and placing in context, of information and experiences that we acquire with the passing of time.

Human cognition is complex, and is reflected in the ease with which new problems are recognized and creative solutions found to solve them. There is a great deal of discussion concerning the need to centre learning on abilities and not to worry so much about knowledge. However, it is advisable to distinguish between learning abilities and abilities themselves. Abilities are always related to a particular part of knowledge or with a trade. In fact, they are a mixture of complex cognitive strategies, interpersonal abilities and attitudes, which enable someone to show themselves to be in a specific field of knowledge or in a profession.

Learning abilities means bringing together a number of cognitive networks, interpersonal abilities and attitudes, which are subordinate to certain knowledge structures. This point of view is an important change in the design of learning technologies. A new perspective is needed on instructive design, as independent knowledge will never be able to form part of ability-based learning. The starting point for ability-based learning must on one hand be highly integrated in a learning network that emphasises relationships between objectives, and on the other, learning activities must be designed in a way that stimulates the construction of such a network. Many constructivist ideas take this approach that tries to analyze the most feasible ways of doing so, either by case studies, projects, mutual teaching, and/or learning communities.

Contrary to what is frequently suggested, the author does not believe that the problem of today's society is that it is more complex than in the past. Instead, the need to start from systemic models that enable one to have an overall view of the way society works is being realized. From this point of view, the constructivist ideas have a common feature, which is that of focusing design on the creation of complex environments permitting multiple representations and which show the completeness and complexity of learning and the construction of knowledge.

In this article the intent is to show the following:

* Constructivism is currently a label used for many approaches and it is necessary to improve the definition and delimitation of the different theories and models arising from generic principles on learning.

* The use of technology from the constructivist perspective leads to highly varied metaphors for the learner:

* The student as a designer

* The student as a reflexive learner

* The student as a member of a learning community

* The greatest virtue of the constructivist approach is that it provides a complex approach, which may help to improve the education and training necessary for living in the modern world.

* There is a lack of integration of the different proposals within the constructivist approach that enables a systemic vision of the design of learning environments.


The label constructivism is being increasingly used but is being applied to many different approaches. Piaget and Vygotsky are the two most important authors who started research into learning using the constructivist approach in the 20th century. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the differences between them, with Piaget's stance on the importance of individual learning as opposed to social learning subject to a great deal of simplification. The author believes that it is an error to compare the two (apart from their analyses of the role of language) because their approaches are not opposing but rather complementary, and concentrate on different aspects of the same situation.

Piaget did not deny the role of the social world in the construction of knowledge, but concentrated on analyzing the relationship between a person and his/her environment. For Piaget, all learning is the result of interaction between the person that discovers and the object of knowledge. Learning takes place based on an imbalance that is an imbalance between the knowledge that a person has and the new information he/she receives. Learning then takes place when the new information interacts with prior knowledge by means of an assimilation-accommodation process, the result of which is the modifying of prior patterns of knowledge or the creation of new patterns. For Piaget, learning must be significant, and only significant learning is able to modify a person's patterns. To obtain significant learning it is necessary to favor the connection between prior experiences and knowledge and new knowledge.

To this model of subject-medium interaction, Vygotsky added features that play a very important role in the learning process--the tools that mediate between interactions and the people who "accompany" the subject during the learning process. According to Vygotsky (1978), man's superior cognitive processes are possible thanks to constant interactions between tools, environment, and symbols. In this respect,

the function of the tool is none other than that of a conductor of human influence on the object of the activity, it is externally directed and must cause changes in objects. It is a medium by means of which external human activity aspires to dominate and triumph over nature. On the other hand, the symbol changes absolutely nothing in the object of a psychological operation. It is therefore a means of internal activity that aspires to dominate itself; the symbol, is therefore internally directed. These activities differ so much from each other and that the nature of the media they use can never be the same in both cases. (p. 64)

Similar to other symbol systems, tools are creations of societies throughout history. The internalization of tools and symbols takes place through mediations of the environment.

Leontiev (1975), developed a theory of human activity, based on Vygotsky's historic-cultural theory. This approach consists of conceiving reality as a series of socially mediated activities. For Leontiev, the unit of social analysis included not only individual but also collective activity, something carried out by a community in order to be consciously recognized. A distinction made by Leontiev showed a key concept in the explanation of how a cognitive change takes place. While accepting Piaget's idea that children actively build their knowledge on interaction with media, Leontiev replaced Piaget's concept of "assimilation" with that of "appropriation." By doing so, he moved from a biology-inspired metaphor to a socio-historical one. Appropriation is therefore a key concept from the Vygotskian perspective inasmuch as it is used to postulate that through immersion in culturally organized activities, the child appropriates tools, instruments, and symbols belonging to each society.

The appropriation of socially constituted interpersonal functional systems leads to cognitive representations that the subject includes in his mental structure. The computer, taken to be a tool in the sense used by Vygotsky, introduces another totally new form of interaction with information, knowledge, and with other people, different from other media used so far.

As well as artifacts, Vygotsky (1978) emphasized the importance of group learning based on the concept of the proximal development zone (PDZ): "it is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (p. 87).

The concept of the PDZ has been interpreted in many ways, in which the concept of internalization has assumed different roles. These interpretations can be placed in the following three categories:

1. The PDZ is characterized as the distance between the individual problem-solving abilities shown by a person and their ability to do so with the help of a group. This interpretation has led to the development of scaffolding pedagogies (Bruner, 1966, Greenfield, 1984), in which explicit support is given to learners to make their autonomous completion of tasks easier although they are first presented and completed with help.

2. A cultural interpretation considers the PDZ to be the distance between cultural knowledge supplied by the socio-historic context and the individual's everyday experience. This interpretation shows the distance between scientific knowledge and everyday knowledge.

3. A third approach, which was developed based on the theory of activity (Engestrom, 1987), considers the PDZ from a collectivist point of view. Engestrom (1987) defines the PDZ as the "distance between the everyday actions of individuals and the historically new form of the societal activity that can be collectively generated as a solution to the double bind potentially embedded in everyday actions" (p. 174). According to this point of view, research tends to focus on processes of social change.

The Role of Technology as an Aid in Constructivist Learning

The theories of Piaget and Vygotsky have led to different approaches and uses of technology that provide us with significant advances in the field of instructive design, as can be seen in Figure 2.

Many designs have been developed, based on Piaget's point of view, taking the student as a designer as the model's starting point, and emphasizing the importance of learning by discovery. Meanwhile, from the Vygotskian perspective, the student is seen as a researcher, with a great deal of importance placed on learning in context and on cooperation within the learning community.

Piagetian Approaches

Papert does not usually appear in manuals on instructive design. However, it is the author's opinion that his contributions are a good example of how a consistent educational approach can be established, based on a learning theory--that of Piaget, in this case. Papert was also one of the first constructivist designers, based on his concept of the microworld, which is nothing less than the construction of a learning environment.

The author also believes that it is important to highlight Papert's (1980) contribution to technology in terms of innovation and change in education. The LOGO language represented for many a different perspective of the role of the computer in teaching and enabled many educators to approach information technology with a much more open mind. The problem is that Mind-storms led to very high expectations within the educational world that obviously were not fulfilled.

In the 1990s, Papert and Harel (1993) used the term "constructionism", emphasizing the importance of learning by doing. Knowledge cannot be transmitted, it is the person who must build it and there is no better way to do this than by knowledge in action. For Papert and Harel (1993), the teacher must be a facilitator in the construction of knowledge structures based on the activity of the student. "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 is a sand castle on the beach or a theory of universe" (p. 1).

The fundamental objective of this position is to conceive of knowledge as a design and technology is the means, which enables us to do so and, which facilitates construction. Lego, robots, and web page construction programs, among others, can be used to construct artifacts, objects that enable a hypothesis to be checked, ideas, theories with the object constructed, and in this way obtain immediate feedback.

Also within this approach are the works of Papert and Harel (1993) that developed the Instructional Software Design Project, so students were those who designed their own learning software. By doing so, they must of necessity consider the content of what they are learning and make decisions regarding the design of instructive material. From this same perspective, Papert and Harel (1993) convinced parents that their children should develop video games instead of merely consuming them--"if you use a computer game you should know how to make one" (p. 48).

Resnick has promoted The Computer Clubhouse (2). The club aims to give children the opportunity--outside school hours--of becoming creators and not mere consumers of technology. It supplies children with materials for developing simulations, web page creation, electronic music, and three-dimensional design, among other ideas. It uses all types of program to this end, including animation, editing, graphics, three-dimensional design, music, and sound.

Although very interesting, these ideas are sometimes very extreme in their approaches and statements, which gives them a certain lack of realism in terms of use in formal learning contexts. For example, it is easy to say that it is necessary to convince parents that their children should develop video games instead of merely consuming them. However, this proposal lacks foundation in reality, as to design a video game, it is necessary to have a very high level of computer training. For this reason, they are options that are more widely used in activities outside school than within it.

Authors who have followed these Piagetian approaches have emphasized above all the importance of learning by discovery and the use of technology as an instrument that facilitates activity. Within this approach, we find not only the Logo, Lego/Logo, and Mindstroms ideas, but also the cognitive tools that are given to learners to express and represent what they know. Students work as designers, using the programs as tools to analyze knowledge, gain access to information and interpret it, organize their personal knowledge, and represent what others know (Reeves, 1999). Examples of cognitive tools are databases, spreadsheets, semantic networks, communication software, online cooperation environments, tools for building hypertexts, and multimedia.

Software use as cognitive tools in learning can be summarized as follows:

* They are more effective when applied in a constructivist environment.

* They enable the learner to design his/her own representation of knowledge rather than learning from others.

* They can be used as an aid to reflective thought, which is necessary for significant learning.

* Ideally, the problems and tasks that the cognitive tools must apply must be as realistic as possible and related to the context.

* Using cognitive tools enables the development of many abilities, such as strategies for problem-solving, searching, project organization, presentation, reflection, and so forth.

Socio-Cultural Approaches

The applications of Vygotsky's theory and the theory of activity in the field of instructive design are more recent. Communication technologies have contributed a great deal to the development of these approaches as they provide a good medium for joint cooperation and construction of knowledge.

Although there are many common points between the works by psychologists and instructive designers in this area, there are some differences concerning approaches, and emphasis of some aspects over others. For this reason, three ideas are briefly reviewed that are considered the most relevant within this approach--(a) problem-based learning, (b) distributed cognition, and (c) situated learning.

Problem-based learning. Problem-based learning (PBL) is an approach that is centred on the student's activity. Problem solving has always been part of learning, but the traditional approach concentrated on first transmitting content, which was then applied to solving the problem. In the case of problem-based learning, the order is precisely the opposite. The main activity is the problem to be solved and the contents are learned as and when they are needed to find the solution to the problem. Problem-based learning in cases or projects is always aimed at creating a learning environment, which offers the most realistic and authentic tasks possible, or those closest to students' interests. The main objective of this approach is to facilitate the transferal of learning, and the importance of the students learning not only to identify and solve problems, but also to generate new ones, is emphasized.

One of the most interesting contributions in this field is that developed by the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV, 1990) (3) which considered fundamental, the creation of learning-generating environments that enabled the student to be taught to think, reason, solve problems, and develop learning abilities by means of carrying out complex tasks that subsequently allow the transferal of new problem situations.

The general model of problem-based environments (Savery & Duffy, 1995) was developed in the mid-1950s and was aimed at medical students. This model has been implemented in other areas, such as in business schools, and training of teachers, architects, and lawyers.

The first applications of these environments in medicine involved a patient explaining his/her symptoms, with the student making a diagnosis and suggesting treatment. The student had to express his/her thoughts orally and substantiate their arguments and adopt a determined position with regard to the case. There were no pre-specified objectives in the presentation of these cases, nor were there set texts for solving the problem. Students had to look for their own tools and cooperate with others to solve the problem.

Problem-based environments have the following characteristics:

* Learning objectives. The design of these environments is an attempt to stimulate the student and commit him/her to problem solving. Nothing is simplified and the student is not briefed beforehand. The teacher takes on the role of facilitator in the development of the student's metacognitive abilities.

* Construction or production of problems. The problems presented must contain the relevant concepts and principles for a specific field. When problems are created, the main concepts that students have to know must first be identified. On many occasions, this can lead to controversy for the problem designers, as what these main concepts are must be very well defined.

The problem must be authentic as the students can explore the different dimensions of the problem, real problems provide students with greater motivation and they are more interested in discovering the result of the problem.

The presentation of the problem must encourage the students to solve it. Not only should relevant information be presented, but also all the superfluous information that usually surrounds a real problem. For example, in the presentation of "standardized patients" to medical students, the information supplied is that found in the patient's medical records or case history.

The teacher's ability to guide the acquisition of abilities is vital. He/she should help to develop the students' reasoning and reflections and should help them attain their independence and autonomy in their learning. This is done using the questions that the teacher asks the student: Why? What does it mean? Why do you think so? Do you know what that means? What are the implications of that?

Situated learning. Within the constructivist current, the concept of situationality is one that in recent years has had a great deal of impact on the development and design of learning environments. The concept of situated learning is not unanimous and in fact, we can consider it to have two versions. There are theories that emphasize the role of the individual's situationality and theories that emphasize the importance of situated learning from the social point of view, which are known as learning communities.

As is shown in Figure 3 (Barad & Duffy, 2000, p. 29), the first approach is of a more psychological nature while the second is based on anthropology and sociology.

As Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) pointed out, "Classroom activity very much takes place within the culture of schools, although it is attributed to the culture of readers, writers, mathematicians, economists, geographers, and so forth" (p. 251). However, technology can make an important contribution to decentralizing forms of learning and constructing knowledge. "Computer network technology provides possibilities for more decentralized forms of discourse that have more of the knowledge building capabilities of discourse in the disciplines" (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994, p. 5).

The concept of situated learning is based (Lave & Wenger, 1991) on the concept of legitimate peripherical participation, by which learners inevitably participate in learning communities where the command of knowledge and strategies require the beginner to be gradually included in participation of the community. The student is like a type of learner (as understood in the classical sense of the word, of experience).

It is known as peripherical because the practical studies may be many in number, varied, and do not have to always take the same form or the same type of participation. Two types of participation are referred to--developing knowledge of the strategies identified in practice and reproducing and transforming learning communities.

There are no activities that are not situated. All activities are situated in a determined context because practice is part of learning: "Learning can take place where there is teaching, but does not take instructional instruction to be in itself the source or cause of learning" (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 41).

To develop intentional learning among students, Scardamalia and Bereiter (1996) developed a learning environment called Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environments (CSILE), which incorporated a classroom model for student inquiry and knowledge generation. This program is based on the idea that schools have to be restructured as knowledge-building communities where members interact and share the objectives of learning. Learning has to take place intentionally, in an active way. To achieve this goal, computers and telematics can be used to support the construction of knowledge communities. The system has two important features:

* A special computer program for developing a common information base, typically installed on a local network.

* A systematic model of inquiry based upon the scientific method and informed by current research in cognitive psychology.

CSILE participants approach a problem, develop hypotheses or theories about the problem, and then seek to confirm, modify, or discard their theories. Participants cooperate, review each other's work, and publish their results as professional scientists might.

A current version of CSILE software, which is called Knowledge Fo-rum, allows a view of the notes that provides a conceptual framework for individual notes, locating them on a map, a picture, and/or a concept net. As new notes are generated, students can place these on one or more views, and even construct a view of other views.

To sum up, situated learning is approached from an individual or social perspective, and has a series of common principles that must guide the design of any learning community:

* learning must be provided in context;

* learn as an active participant;

* develop knowledge in action;

* use artifacts as mediating objects; and

* promote the development of the identity within the community.

Distributed cognition. The concept of distributed cognition has many points in common with situated learning. However, it places more emphasis on interaction between people, their environment, and cultural artifacts. The development of individual cognition is held to be impossible to isolate from events; personal development is also a social development and vice versa. In this context, distribution also means sharing--of authority, language, experiences, tasks, and cultural heritage.

From the perspective of the use of computers it means that it is not the system which must make the diagnosis and follow-up but rather the user him/herself. "The computer environment should not be providing the knowledge and intelligence to guide learning, it should be providing the facilitating structure and tools that enable students to make maximum use of their own intelligence and knowledge" (Salomon, 1993, p. 122).

The problem is that not all situations where cognition is distributed satisfy system design conditions. Moreover, not all cognition distribution situations are the same. For this reason, the majority of authors using this approach consider that the best method for design is scaffolding. The system thus acts as a type of companion, which facilitates activities and makes the student's cognitive activity possible. The most well known tool for this approach is Writing Partner, designed by Salomon (1993), in which the system acts as a guide during the production of written texts.


In the constructivist framework, the emphasis is not on teaching, but rather on contexts or learning environments. In traditional approaches to teaching, it is the designers that take the decisions regarding what students have to learn, in what contexts they should learn, what strategies they should use to attain this knowledge, and how this acquisition should be evaluated. The constructivists substitute these conceptions for a more flexible concept of learning, in which the learning process is not so prespecified. Design is an iterative problem-solving process that should be modified according to the results obtained. Constructivist learning environments can be defined as "a place where students can work together, helping each other, using a variety of informative instruments and resources that enable them to search for the learning objectives and activities for solving problems" (Wilson, 1995, p. 27).

The design of multimedia materials and use of the Internet can facilitate student-centred work. Figure 4, based on the ideas of Oliver and Hannafin (2000), presents a taxonomy of constructivist tasks and the requirements of web-based tools that can help in their development.

The design of a learning environment goes far beyond the computer material itself, as the entire organization must adopt this type of approach for it to be really effective. This is clearly shown in Jonassen's (1999) conceptual model (p. 195).

Real life situations which help to put problem solving into practice and their subsequent transferal to other real situations are significant contexts for constructivists. For this reason, they oppose the linear presentation of information in education, as this stresses memorization and the acquisition of knowledge and abilities in an isolated manner, which is often Out of context. The constructivist alternative to memorization and activities out of context is to place greater emphasis on learning contexts that enable knowledge to be constructed, organising the contexts with activities that are closer to the real world, and which normally involve discussion groups.


We can place the main problems of designing constructivist environments in categories-content of the tasks, sequencing of the tasks, transferal and co-operation.

Content of the tasks. As has been mentioned throughout this article, the constructivist approaches emphasize the idea that knowledge is not something that can be written in a book and transmitted to students, but rather that knowledge is something complex that must be constructed by learners, and learning based on tasks or solving important problems may be a way to reach this type of learning. However, we believe that learning environments defined as environments in which the student works on a relatively complex task provide better opportunities for learning and transferring what has been learned to other situations. The problem, however, lies in the origin of the learning tasks. What is an authentic task? When is a task motivating? Normally, as van Merrienboer (1999) pointed out very clearly, constructivists substitute tasks based on the world of knowledge for those based on the world of experience or work (in the case of university teaching or in-company training).

This substitution of the contents of knowledge for the contents of experience or work causes some problems. In schools, students' learning can be highly diverse according to the particular circumstances of each group. This aspect is positive but is also dangerous in terms of the lack of overall and integrated vision that is generated. Moreover, authentic tasks in childhood are always mediated by the teacher, meaning that the limits between the children's real interests and what was previously agreed upon by the educators are unclear. From the point of view of the learning medium, it is not easy to anticipate all the tools that the learning environment will have to provide the student with so that he/she can carry out the task or solve the problem. To solve or create problems, it is necessary to have a good command of content. At times, the constructivist perspective seems to underestimate or neglect this aspect.

Sequencing of the tasks. Another complex aspect is the design of sequences of cases or tasks. As Collins, Brown, and Newman (1989) pointed out "the ability to produce a coherent and appropriate sequence of case studies and problems (i.e., learning tasks) is a key feature in the design of constructivist learning environments." In many cases it appears necessary to go from the simple to the complex, and on the other hand, many examples can be found where there is evidence that the exact opposite is necessary. Van Merrienboer (1999) gave a very good example of this with the case of training students in instructive design. A student cannot start by moving from the simple to the complex without reviewing and evaluating previously produced material, for example.

Transfer. All the constructivist theories appears to be convinced that learning in context with authentic tasks improves transferal, makes it possible to apply what has been learned in a school environment outside school, and vice versa. However, this is not an easy statement to prove and in fact the author does not think it has been proven in the research into the consequences for learning of the design of multimedia and web materials. This is an extremely important aspect but one, which without a doubt needs a systemic research approach that has not been used to date. In the author's opinion, this is still the greatest challenge of research in this field where the analytical approach is still very much used, although he considers it unsuitable for research into the effects of this type of environment.

According to Reeves, research showed that students learn both with and from technologies, but "we know very little about the most effective ways to implement interactive learning. In fact, the need for long-term, intensive research and evaluation studies focused on the mission of improving teaching and learning through interactive learning technology has never been greater" (Reeves, 1999, p. 62).

Co-operation. "Collaboration" refers to the fact that a group of people work together on a task. However, much has been written about how best to define "collaborative learning." A frequent point of departure is to draw a distinction between two terms that are often used interchangeably: "collaborative" and "cooperative" learning. The main difference between these terms concerns the nature of the task being carried Out and the role of the group members in achieving the task. In a collaborative learning process, two or more people are required to learn something together; what has to be learned can only be accomplished if the group works in collaboration. Therefore, the group needs to decide how to achieve the task, which procedures they will adopt, how they will go about dividing up the roles, and so forth. Communication and negotiation are fundamental in a collaborative learning process. In contrast, cooperative learning requires a division of tasks among group members. For instance, the teacher proposes a p roblem that the group needs to solve and indicates who will be responsible for obtaining references from the library, who will conduct a web search, who will report back on the findings, and so forth.

Dillenbourg's definition was clear on the matter: "a situation is termed 'collaborative' if peers are (a) more or less at the same level and can perform the same action, (b) have a common goal, and (c) work together" (Dillenbourg 1999, p. 9).

While classical Computer Based Learning (CBL) and most of the current multimedia are designed to support an individual process of learning, in recent years an increasing number of systems that support group learning have been produced: programs that encourage learning in collaboration, videogames to be played in a group (without any element of competition), systems that facilitate communication and negotiation, the production of materials that involve written collaboration, and so on. In a computer mediated collaborative learning situation, the level of interaction is very important. As Baker (1999) pointed out, to achieve real learning, grounding and appropriation have to take place.

Grounding is the name given to the interactive processes by which common ground or mutual understanding between individuals are constructed and maintained. Grounding can take place on pragmatic and semantic levels. Interacting participants need to understand each other, learn to collaborate and/or have a common understanding, common domain of the task, meaning, and so forth however, reaching this level of relationship is not easy in practice.

To sum up, the author believes that although the greatest virtue of the constructivist approaches is that of providing a complex approach that can help to improve the education and training necessary for living in today's society, a greater degree of integration of the different ideas, which enable a systemic vision of learning environment design in preparation for a do-it-yourself theory is necessary.

The name of a do-it-yourself theory is given to the systemization of the principles of instructive design, which are able to explain the most suitable type of designs based on different educational and training needs. Designers must have time to reflect on action. In fact, the current design process should itself be a focus for study.
Figure 1

Changes in access to and distribution of knowledge


Centralised knowledge Widespread knowledge

Highly evolved knowledge Knowledge spread in many ways
spread using language

Non-accessible knowledge Directly accessible knowledge

Passed from generation to Younger generations have knowledge
generation that the older generations do not

Figure 2

Constructivism approaches


Metaphor for the learner The student as a designer

Didactical approach Learning by discovery

Use of technology Microworlds
 Cognitive tools

Working approaches Constructionism: S. Papert,
 I. Harel, M. Resnick

Teaching methods Simulation, role-playing, games,
 case studies, Socratic method,
 guided learning, scaffolding,
 learning by teaching, cooperative
 learning, collaborative learning,
 learning by designing.


Metaphor for the learner The student as a
 The student as a member
 of a community

Didactical approach Learning in context
 Learning in co-operation

Use of technology Learners' articulation and
 Shared learning

Working approaches Learning based on
 problem-solving, cases,
 Distributed cognition
 Situated leaning (learning
 Collaborative learning

Teaching methods

Figure 3

Psychological and anthropological views

 Psychological Views

Focus Cognition

Learners Students

Unit of Analysis Situated Activity

What is porduced by Meaning

Learning arena Schools

Goal of learning Prepare for future tasks

Pedagogical implications Practice fields

 Anthropological Views

Focus Individuals' relations to

Learners Members of communities
 of Practice

Unit of Analysis Individuals in community

What is porduced by Meaning, identities, and
 interactions communities

Learning arena Everyday world

Goal of learning Meet immediate
 community needs

Pedagogical implications Communities of practice

Figure 4

Taxonomy of constructivist tasks

Constructivist Tasks Tools to support Active Student
 Processing of Web-Based Resources

Plan appropriate tactics, establish Action of goal manager: web-based
personal or group goals project planning

Discuss or debate internal E-mail, listservs, bulletin boards,
conceptions and receive feedback videoconferencing

Seek and collect external Bookmarking, digital drop boxes,
information Globe Web, and so forth

Organise external information into Software to construct tables,
internally coherent framework charts, diagrams, timelines,
 concept maps, and so forth

Generate new information HTML text editors, web page
 generators, collaborative web
 editing, word processors, and so

Manipulate external information Simulations, microworlds
and variables to test and revise
internal hypotheses or models


(1.) This is the case of the educational ideas of authors such as Dewey, Freinet, and Kilpatrick.


(3.) The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt is a multidisciplinary group that develops projects based on cognitive and social learning theories. The CTGV is headed by J.D. Bransford.


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Author:Gros, Begona
Publication:Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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