Arguably one of the best articles I’ve read in years (re: Constructivism doesn’t work!)

Now, now, all you constructivists out there just settle down. I approach the whole behaviorist/constructivist conversation with my own beliefs, but without judgement for those who don't see it like I do. I very much adhere to the behaviorist philosophy, and personally have major issues with some of the tenets set forth by constructivism. I did, however, run across a GREAT article that looks empirically at constructivism. It was linked from one of the blogs I read (I didn't note which one), but it is called Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching by Paul Kirschner, John Sweller, and Richard Clark. This .pdf states that this was in press for January 2006 in Educational Psychologist, but I'll admit I'm too lazy to check that fact out.

In short, it takes an empirical look at all minimal guidance instruction (by whatever name you want to call it), and when it comes down to the numbers--which to me, are what matters in research--it can't stand up.

I guess what I like most here (other than the conclusion ;-) ) is how systematically this was approached. I liked the memory approach. It makes perfect sense.

I think the authors were fair as well. They did distinguish between novel information (information new to the learner) and information for learners who already have some measure of expertise within the subject-matter area. In short, the minimal guidance approach can actually lead to a loss of learning with novel information (hey, they cite the sources of the studies), can produce more errors, does not produce expertise, and has no more effect than guided instruction in experienced learners.

One interesting question for those proponents of minimally guided instruction brought up in the article. Handlesman et al. (2004--and I'm not citing this here, just look at the .pdf) ask:
". . . why do outstanding scientists who demand rigorous proof for scientific assertions in their research continue to use and, indeed defend on the bias of intuition alone, teaching with methods that are not the most effective?"

Good question. I don't get it either.


1 comment:

  1. Great article. Thanks for sharing.

    There is a fundamental assumption made right at the beginning: "Learning, in turn, is defined as a change in long-term memory." For learning as remembering, certainly guided instruction is best, as the authors claim. But, is learning just about remembering?

    I'm intrigued lately with this idea of different learning domains. Merrill speaks of facts, concepts, procedures, and principles. The strategies used to learn in these different domains are not the same.

    Anderson & Krathwohl, in "A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing" (2001) take Bloom's taxonomy of learning domains and add one, so there are the domains of "remember, understand, apply" ... all domains focused mainly around learning as memory, and best accomplished through some kind of guided instruction. This is in line with the claims of this article.

    Then, there are the domains of "analyze, evaluate, and create." These are learning domains that move beyond memory learning to learning that is more generative. These might be better accomplished with strategies like case-based learning, inquiry-based learning, discovery learning, etc.