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Constructivism as a perspective on teaching and learning


Constructivism is a perspective (or perhaps a number of related perspectives) on how people come to knowledge. Some forms of education and social research are said to adopt constructivist approaches (usually those studies undertaken from the 'interpretive' paradigm). Constructivism has been especially influential as a perspective on learning, and therefore a perspective on teaching (pedagogy, instruction).


Personal constructivism and learning

In particular, a perspective often referred to as 'personal constructivism' has informed thinking about how students learn. This approach is also sometimes described as

  • cognitive constructivism
  • pedagogic constructivism
  • psychological constructivism

Personal constructivism focuses on the individual learner as a meaning maker, and considers that learning is a process of interpreting experience using prior learning as the basis for new learning. From this perspective learning is:

  • iterative (as new learning draws on existing understanding)
  • interpretative (as the individual draws upon internal interpretive resources (such as their existing conceptions) for sense-making
  • incremental (as the human cognitive system can only construct new knowledge at a limited rate, and it takes time for new learning to be consolidated sufficient for it to act as robust foundations for further learning)

(These ideas are explored in more details in Keith S Taber's book Student Thinking and Learning in Science: Perspectives on the nature and development of learners' ideas (2014, New York: Routledge) that is written with the needs of classroom teachers and intending teachers in mind).


Constructivism in science education

Constructivism has been a major influence on work undertaken in science education over several decades. Constructivism has informed pedagogy and curriculum development, as well as being dominant idea in research.

As a perspective in science education research, constructivism was at one time widely considered the dominant paradigm. The constructivist research programme continues to be a major programme in science education, and is a major theme of much of Dr Taber's work. (For example, visit the web-pages of the ECLIPSE project (ECLIPSE stands for Exploring Conceptual Learning Integration and Progression in Science Education).


Enquiry / Inquiry and Science Teaching

Constructivism has strong links with the international movement to encourage more enquiry / inquiry based science education. Enquiry based science education seeks to give students opportunities to have authentic experiences of the nature of enquiry in science.

Constructivism (along with enquiry-based teaching) has sometimes been linked to ideas such as student-centred, progressive, and discovery learning. Whilst there is some sense in these connections, constructivist teaching does not imply open-ended discovery learning or minimally guided teaching: far from it. Constructivist teaching, when done well, can be understood as optimally guided instruction.


Some writing about constructivism and science education:

  • Taber, K. S. (2017). The nature of student conceptions in science. In K. S. Taber & B. Akpan (Eds.), Science Education: An International Course Companion (pp. 119-131). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
  • Taber, K. S. (2014). Prior Knowledge. In R. Gunstone (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Science Education. Berlin-Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.
  • Taber, K. S. (2014). Constructing and communicating knowledge about chemistry and chemistry education. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 15(1), 5-9. doi: 10.1039/c3rp90012f
  • Taber, K. S. (2012). Vive la différence? Comparing ‘like with like’ in studies of learners’ ideas in diverse educational contexts. Educational Research International, 2012(Article 168741), 1-12. Retrieved from doi:10.1155/2012/168741
  • Taber, K. S. (2011). Constructivism as educational theory: Contingency in learning, and optimally guided instruction. In J. Hassaskhah (Ed.), Educational Theory. New York: Nova, 39-61.
  • Taber, K. S. (2011). Inquiry teaching, constructivist instruction and effective pedagogy. Teacher Development, 15(2), 257-264.
  • Taber, K. S. (2011). [Essay Review of] Stella Vosniadou (Ed): International Handbook of Research on Conceptual Change. Science & Education, 20(5-6), 563-576. doi: 10.1007/s11191-010-9283-6
  • Taber, K. S. (2011). Guiding the practice of constructivist teaching. Teacher Development, 15(1), 117 - 122.
  • Taber, K. S. (2010). Constructivist pedagogy is superior – it’s a matter of definition. Advanced Distributed Learning Newsletter for Educators and Educational Researchers, (October 2010). from:
  • Taber, Keith S. (2010 July 6) Constructivism and Direct Instruction as Competing Instructional Paradigms: An Essay Review of Tobias and Duffy's Constructivist Instruction: Success or Failure? Education Review, 13(8). from external link:
  • Taber, K. S. (2010). Straw men and false dichotomies: Overcoming philosophical confusion in chemical education. Journal of Chemical Education, 87(5), 552-558.
  • Taber, K. S. (2010). Paying lip-service to research?: The adoption of a constructivist perspective to inform science teaching in the English curriculum context. The Curriculum Journal, 21(1), 25 – 45.
  • Taber, K. S. (2009). Progressing Science Education: Constructing the scientific research programme into the contingent nature of learning science. Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Taber, Keith S. (2009, September 14). Constructivism and the Crisis in U.S. Science Education: An Essay Review. Education Review, 12(12). Retrieved from
  • Bektas, O., & Taber, K. S. (2009). Can science pedagogy in English schools inform educational reform in Turkey? Exploring the extent of constructivist teaching in a curriculum context informed by constructivist principles. Journal of Turkish Science Education, 6(3), 66-80.
  • Taber, K. S. (2009). Progressing the Constructivist Research Programme to Advance Teaching and Learning about the Nature of Science. In I. M. Saleh & M. S. Khine (Eds.), Fostering Scientific Habits of Mind: Pedagogical Knowledge and Best Practices in Science Education. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers, pp.37-57.
  • Taber, K. S. (2008) Exploring student learning from a constructivist perspective in diverse educational contexts, Journal of Turkish Science Education, 5 (1), 2-21. (Invited contribution).
  • Taber, K. S. (2006) Beyond Constructivism: the Progressive Research Programme into Learning Science, Studies in Science Education, 42, pp.125-184.
  • Taber, K. S. (2006) Constructivism's new clothes: the trivial, the contingent, and a progressive research programme into the learning of science. Foundations of Chemistry, 8 (2), pp. 189-219.
  • Taber, K. S. (2000) Chemistry lessons for universities?: a review of constructivist ideas, University Chemistry Education, 4 (2), pp.26-35.
  • Taber, K. S. and Watts, M. (1997) Constructivism and concept learning in chemistry - perspectives from a case study, Research in Education, 58, November 1997, pp.10-20.