The Effects of Constructivism Theory in the Environment of E-learning

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The Effects of the Constructivism Theory in the environment of e-Learning

by Serafeim A. Triantafyllou

Abstract | We observe in recent years that constructivist philosophy has a great impact on adult education. Constructivism as a philosophical stream draws its content from various theories. His main point is that knowledge is directly related to construct. Individuals, depending on their emphasis on external reality, form a personal view, focusing, of course, on the importance of social processes in the production of knowledge (Papastamatis, 2010, p. 102).

On the other hand, we observe the adoption of a new way of learning, e-learning, that takes place in a different environment, the distance environment and not in the traditional class environment. Of course, it is a fact that in the context of e-learning, adult educators have to use some special techniques and adopt different approaches in order to successfully pass their teaching work. In particula r, each adult learner has his own particular needs and experiences, which the trainer has to recognize and take into account in the design of his teaching. The philosophical and methodological changes that the trainer will adopt will therefore significantly affect his teaching (Hsiu-Mei Huang, 2002, p. 27 -37).

Many researchers have suggested that constructivism should be applied to distance learning (Hsiu-Mei Huang, 2002, p. 27- 37). This paper aims to examine the impact of constructivism on adult education by implementing some of the constructivist approaches to e-learning.

Terms -Keys – Constructivism, Adult Education, Electronic Learning.

1. Introductory study of constructivism and e -learning

This paper discusses the impact of constructivism on adult education and the implementation of some of the constructivist approaches to e -Learning. Many commentators argue that distance learning requires the introduction of a new form of pedagogical approach structured in the relationship developed between trainer s and adult learners. Traditional teacher-centered methods where the trainer dominates learning, planning, designing, teaching, and evaluating his teaching often make trainees passive recipients who receive accumulated knowledge and are not encouraged to develop thought-critical thinking. In addition, each learner carries his own learning styles and learning attributes that a trainer w ho wants to achieve in his didactic work must take them seriously into account to help learners in their effort to conquer learning. Brey's research (1988), in a group of adult students, showed that among the trainees there were people who were older, people who worked and had to live their families, and people who had previously for different reasons had to interrupt their studies. In addition, the personal planning of each person's life as well as the requirements in the context of his student status differed from person to person, due to different personal and professional experiences (Hsiu-Mei Huang, 2002, pp. 27-37). E-Learning, as a distance learning methodology, is the learning process where learning or more precisely the learning process is carried out through modern technologies, such as computer programs and advanced telecommunication systems (Rosenberg, 2001). The trainee usually has full control of progress, while at the same time there is available, if desired, support from the trainer or specialist. Support is necessary, since otherwise we would only speak of self-education, which could be done by other means, eg. book or CD-ROM. An e-learning model was proposed where the trainer and trainees can communicate in distance via videoconferencing using links, animations and multimedia (audio, images and video) to fill the gap of physical distance that would exist, if the teaching took pla ce in a traditional classroom. In general, Information Technology provides a wide range of media that enables synchronous and asynchronous communication. Synchronous is the called real-time communication, while asynchronous communication does not occur in real- time. A typical example of asynchronous communication is sending and receiving emails. The positive aspects of e-learning include the learner's ability to determine his learning rate based on his own individual characteristics as he has the ability from home to attend lectures asynchronously at any time he wishes. In other words, there are no other time and spatial constraints on distance learning based on electronic means (Internet).

Distance learning works differently from the environment of a traditional classroom. Since, there is no possibility of face-to-face communication between trainer and trainees through distance learning, which is the case in traditional classroom teaching many researchers (Comedyux, 1995; McHenry and Bozik, 1995; Eastmond and Lawrence, 1997-1998; McDonald and Gibson, 1998), in their attempt to introduce a new form of pedagogical approach to distance learning, turned their attention to the extent to which there could be interaction between trainer and trainees.

Moore (1991) notes that the interaction between individuals or a whole group of individuals is influenced by the educational philosophy adopted in e -learning, the distance learning. Constructivists, such as Dewey (1916), Vygotsky (1978) and Bruner (1996), believe that knowledge is built by students through social interaction with their co-students. Jonassen (1995), Moller (1998) and Petraglia (1998) suggested that the philosophical stream of constructivism should be applied to distance learning and educational technology. Petraglia (1998, 53), however, argued that an effort should be made to adapt educational tools and environments based on the needs of the existing external reality before the trainee interacts with them (Hsiu-Mei Huang, 2002, p. 27-37).

2. Educational Philosophical Theories: Constructivism and New Technologies


Dewey (1916), Piaget (1973), Vygotsky (1978) and Bruner (1996) suggested that students could be active receivers of knowledge and "construct" the new forms of knowledge they take on earlier forms of knowledge. Under these circumstances, the role of the trainer should be facilitating (Ornstein and Hunkins, 1998). For Dewey (1916), the experiences of a trainee from his external environment are of great importance to him, because the existence of experience suggests a learner's interaction with the existing external reality.

Knowledge is therefore based on experience. However, Piaget and Dewey report that the trainer should take into account the students’ experiences from the external sociocultural environment in order to make them realize that based on these experiences they will be able to increase their abilities and direct the course of their later experiences (Hsiu-Mei Huang, 2002, p.27-37, Papastamatis, 2010, p.84).

Dewey (1916) felt that the main role of education was to develop critical thinking. He also stressed that a student who does not develop a learning motivation will not realize the importance of the educational subject for study. Therefore, he pointed out that the aim of the trainer is to stimulate the students' interest in the subject that is put to the students to study. In other words, Dewey says knowledge must be dynamic and be the result of systematic and in-depth research. (Dewey 1916).

Vygotsky put more emphasis on the social content of learning. His theory focuses on the socio-cultural nature of learning, a learning that must be based on the particular social and cultural characteristics of the trainer and learner (Vygotsky, 1978). Since Vygotsky's theory emphasizes the interaction between the trainer and trainees in terms of cognitive development, his theory was called "social constructivism" (Maddux, Johnson and Willis, 1997).

The theory of constructivism is defined as the construction of new knowledge, which is based on the trainee's previous experiences. Woolfolk (1993, p. 485) states that: "The basic idea is that students construct their knowledge actively: the learner's mind receives stimuli from the outside reality and chooses which of those that he learns is useful in his everyday life. Learning is a continuous energetic process and not a passive perception of teaching. "

Honebein (1996) reported a set of goals that help design educational processes based on constructivist approaches. The goals are:

- Providing experience with the process of building knowledge.
- Providing experience and developing critical thinking.
- Learning should aim to help the trainee in his daily life.
- Freedom to formulate views and ideas during the educational process.
- Integration of learning and social experience.
- Encourage the use of various forms of presentation in teaching.

(Honebein, 1996 p. 11)

Murphy (1997) summed up with an excellent summary the characteristics of the philosophical theory of constructivism by conducting a review of the relevant literature. The features are as follows:

1. Encourage multiple approaches and representations of the concepts and content presented.
2. Target setting should be the result of negotiation of adult learners, adult educators and educational body / organization.
3. Adult educators should sometimes have the role of the instructor and sometimes a mediating role.
4. The activities, opportunities, tools and environments provided should encourage metacognition, self-analysis, self-correction, self-integrity, and the development of critical awareness.
5. The trainee should be pushed into self-directed learning and personalized study.
6. Learning processes, environments, skills and teaching content should be relevant, realistic, authentic and represent the physical difficulties of the external reality.
7. The sources from which information about teaching is acquired should meet the characteristics of the authenticity and complexity of the external reality.
8. The focus should be on the social construction of knowledge rather than the reproduction of the same knowledge.
9. This construction should be in harmony with the individual learning traits of each trainee through social negotiation, collaboration and experience.
10. The prior knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of adult learners should be taken into account in the process of building knowledge.
11. The goal should be to develop problem-solving skills, high intelligence, and develop critical thinking and deeper understanding.
12. Failures and errors should be an opportunity for learners to see where their learning goals have been met and to correct them. In other words, they are given the opportunity to control previous knowledge constructions.
13. Exploring knowledge is a constant quest for knowledge and truth.
14. Learners can conquer learning through the study of increasing complexity of topics, from the development of knowledge, attitudes and ski lls.
15. The complexity of knowledge is shown by the interdisciplinary deepening of the study of concepts.
16. The co-operative climate that must be available to trainees helps them approach a subject from more than one point of view.
17. Learning is a developmental and complex process often aimed at developing the learner's knowledge, skills and attitudes.
18. The evaluation of the teaching should be an authentic and continuous process. (Alex Koohang, Liz Riley, Terry Smith, 2009).

The impacts of constructivism on teaching are summarized as follows:

- What learners may learn may not match what the instructor intended. The eterminants of knowledge come from the student's inner world.
- What students learn is based on what they already know. The most important factor in learning is the existing knowledge. New knowledge is built upon prior knowledge.
- Learning is a continuous energetic process.
- Students have the ultimate responsibility for what they will learn. Therefore, the instructor who adopts the constructivist approach should let the trainees self-direct their learning, pushing them into the individualized study.
- The construction of concepts has some common traits. Through language and common experiences human constructions allow communication and assumptions of mutual validity (Biggs & Moore, 1993: 22-23).

New technologies

The rapid development of Information and Communication Technology in teaching and education has led many researchers and trainers to seriously consider adopting new pedagogical approaches and not just to rest in a direct transition from the traditional classroom environment to a distance electronic environment.

As Maddux, Johnson and Willis (2001) explain the use of computers in teaching and educational requirements, it does not detract from the teacher's contribution to the whole educational process, it simply enhances it by offering new ways of educating students (Elizabeth Murphy)

E-learning or distance learning is gradually selected by higher education students. A 2006 report by Allen and Seaman showed that 3.2 million students in the United tates, most undergraduate students, chose at least one online lesson in the autumn of 2005. A more recent report by Allen and Seaman (2008) showed that online enrollment in lessons based on distance-based environments grew faster than traditional enrollment in non-online courses. Specifically: About 3.5 million students were taking at least one online lesson during the autumn of 2006. Nearly 20% of US higher education students took at least one online lesson in the autumn of 2006. In addition, we had the percentage 9.7% increase in online enrollments in e -learning environments, compared to 1.5% of the overall student population growth in the highest education (Alex Koohang, Liz Riley, Terry Smith, 2009).

For Bruner, technology is a powerful tool that can be used for education purposes. As Bruner himself says: "Primary emphasis should be on education to develop skills, visualization and symbolic functions, especially those related to the technologies that made them so powerful in human expression."

Technologies are cognitive tools that help students process the critical thinking they are developing and transform it into beneficial learning (Jonassen, 2000). In addition, Jonassen (2000, 24) summarized that students use technologies as intellectual collaborators in order to be able to formulate what they already know, to compare what they have learned with previous knowledge, to be able to clarify semantically the concepts they have learned and developed thought-critical thinking.

Many well-known technologies in the field of Information Technology can support e - learning, such as the web, blogs, web-based sources, and recorded teachings that can support asynchronous communication (Huang, 2000). The World Wide Web or Web is based on hypertext links and hyperlinks (image, audio, video, animation) that facilitate the learning process. Hypermedia and the Web are environments where knowledge is a construct and incorporate search engines to better understand information and videos to better visualize the range of ideas trainees propose (Jonassen, 2000). The Web provides direct educational res ources for adult learners. Through the mechanisms provided by the web, the trainee can actively seek and discover rich-bibliographic sources to solve a problem or construct his knowledge. Therefore, the World Wide Web is a tool for a student-centered teaching approach and a constructivist approach to education (Hsiu-Mei Huang, 2002).

E-mail, chat rooms, newsgroups can keep the students of a learning group informed about the subject matter they are researching through the Internet. The possibilities of synchronous and asynchronous communication emphasize the development of cognitive communities, where participants share information, demonstrating both the level of knowledge they have built and the cognitive processes they used (Jonassen, 2000).

3. Issues of a constructivist approach related to e-learning

There are seven important issues regarding constructivism and its impact on e - learning. Firstly, the issue of introversion observed by a trainee who learns at a distance is a topic to be discussed, since distance learning is an essential part of the design of e-learning. Many distance learning instructors attempt to use technologies such as teleconferencing, the Internet and videoconferencing to develop interaction with learners in the context of distance learning. However, Kearsley (1998, 49), states: "Teachers are unable to understand that distance learning aims to create a different learning and teaching infrastructure by using new technologies as educational tools." In other words, the point is learning and teaching, and not new technologies. On the other hand, Spitzer (1998) criticized the fact that some distance teachers do not realize that new technologies and their social dimension are equally important in distance learning. Additionally, the online environment places restrictions, allowing communication with others only through computers. Many argue that this can lead to social isolation.

Secondly, distance trainers should determine the quality and authenticity of their education (Lundin, 1998; Westera, 1999). The Internet provides only one ocean of information. This has the direct consequence that trainees are confused and do not recognize which of these kinds of information are reliable and useful for the topic they are studying.

Thirdly, we also have the issue of determining the role of distance education instructors. By designing an educational process, the trainer must take into consideration the particular learning attributes of each learner. Trainees have ultimate responsibility for what they will learn for their final learning. Consequently, the trainer who adopts the constructivist approach must let the trainees self-direct their learning, but also push them into the personalized study. The role of the trainer should be mediatory, facilitating rather than guiding.

Fourth, we have the subject of pre-authenticity that is being challenged in the constructivist approach. Petraglia (1998, 53) defined pre-authenticity as "the effort, learning tools and educational environments to respond to the real world in relation to the learner's previous interaction with them." Normally, adult educators predetermine what they perceive as authentic learning. In distance learning courses designed by hypertext or hypermedia, the information available to students does not come from outside reality. Information, of course, which takes place in distant environments, may come from ideas, philosophical queries and reflections on how the external environment, external reality is constructed (Petraglia, 1998).

Fifth, an argument of the constructivist approach is that the adult educator's assessment must meet some timetables. In other words, it is not easy to evaluate an adult trainer. For Dewey, therefore, the quality of the educational process is more important than the outcome (Knowles et al., 1998, 94). On the other hand, the learning process for learning in adult education places particular emphasis on learning, not only on the outcome.

Sixth, another argument to which the constructivists place particular emphasis is that teaching and learning must be learner-centered.

On the other hand, adult education focuses on learners as individuals as they have previous knowledge and experience. Until today, it is difficult for a trainer to design and develop an individual curriculum for each trainee. But, Bill Gates notes: "Informatics will not only bring mass information to students, but this information will be adapted to their learning styles, cultural backgrounds, educational interests, and academic goals" (Ornstein and Hunkins , 1998).

Seventh, cooperative learning in relation to adult education that supports student- centered teaching, expresses the opposite. However, social constructivism expresses that knowledge is constructed by social interaction and coopera tive learning (McDonald and Gibson, 1998). In other words, it is believed that adult learners with more knowledge and experience in a cognitive field can help adult learners who do not have the same knowledge and experience in their quest to acquire knowle dge through cooperative learning. Instead, adult education supports self-motivation and individual study. Students are the ones who have the ultimate responsibility in learning. To summarize, therefore, we should point out that when a grouping of adult learners is required to implement cooperative learning, the trainer may encounter difficulties in taking into account the learning characteristics and learning styles of each trainee (Hsiu-Mei Huang, Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments, British Journal of Educational Technology, Issue 33, No. 1, 2002).

4. Constructivism in adult distance education

The designers of distance learning programs face the challenge of what philoso phical and methodological movements should be made from the behaviourist to the cognitive approaches and from the objectivist to the constructivist ones (Lundin, 1998; Gibson, 1997; Jonassen, 1994; Jonassen et al. 1995; Moller, 1998; Sherry, Fulford and Zhang, 1998; Petraglia, 1998; Wagner and McCombs, 1995; Westera, 1999). Moving towards constructivism, the educational principles related to teaching practices and the design of distance learning are as follows:

Interactive Learning

Constructivists like Vygotsky and Dewey believed that students cannot learn being isolated from other students, and cognitive psychology gradually adopted the view that people normally learn and work cooperatively in their lives (Petraglia, 1998). Interactivity is a way of focusing students' interest. In addition, it offers a way that, through the use of new technologies, learners are encouraged to realize what the content and nature of the educational process should be. Undoubtedly, it is a fact that not all people participating in a learning group interact. Adult trainers could encourage learners to create participatory discussion groups. For example, real -time chat with modern communication tools such as chat rooms and video conferencing. On the other hand, adult educators can ask learner s questions about an educational subject, which can be answered within a reasonable time, via e -mail, ie through asynchronous communication forms. Since trainees recognize their learning attributes and styles, they can gradually develop critical thinking (Hsiu-Mei Huang, Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments, British Journal of Educational Technology, Issue 33, No. 1, 2002).

Cooperative learning

For social constructivists, education must enhance the interaction of le arners with each other, but with the trainer as well.

Of course, the role of the trainer should be mediatory, not the one of authority. The teacher should be very interested in the interaction of the teaching content with the needs and abilities of the learner, and not just the completion of the curriculum. Jonassen says that by creating an appropriate environment for social negotiation, social interaction between trainer and trainees, this will lead to the development of critical thinking but also of social and interpersonal skills, as a dominant role in the learning process will play the environment of cooperation in the study subjects to the trainees. In addition, the use of new technologies will remove the remote obstacles that may arise due to a lack of "physical" communication between trainer and trainees as it will enhance the interaction and cooperative climate among trainees and help them in their work conquer learning. In other words, based on the fundamental principles of constructivism, distance learning instructors should find ways to promote cooperative learning through the interaction of teaching content based on the needs and abilities of learners (Hsiu-Mei Huang, Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments, British Journal of Educational Technology, Issue 33, No. 1, 2002).

Facilitating Learning

A charismatic trainer aims to create a safe environment for trainees where freedom of expression of views, ideas and queries will be ensured (Hamilton, 1996; Porter, 199 7). Also, the role of the trainer should be facilitating. The trainer adopting a constructivist approach must monitor and coordinate the course of the learning process as well as control the quality of the content of the curriculum it delivers electronical ly to the students. The theory of constructivism offers students the possibility of free communication, as well as free expression of opinions and ideas. Modern people are multifaceted communicative beings and must seek truth and knowledge through communication. The focus is not only on individual consciousness, but also on language and communication. The first step in understanding a learning process is the detailed analysis that everyone gives to the world. In each multicultural society each cultural group gives its own version of the reality (Adamantios Papastamatis, Adult Education, Foundations of the Didactic Act, I.SIDERIS Publications, Athens, 2010, p. 45). In order to improve the learning process, we need to look at the world with the eyes of other cultural groups (Gotovos, 2002; Gustavsson, 1997:246).

Authentic Learning

Constructivist theory emphasizes that the learning process must be authentic. Learning especially in adult education has to be intertwined with the development of the individual, emphasizing his everyday experiences and generally taking into account that the adult experiences a complex reality every day. Jonassen (1994, 35) states that: "Constructivists place primary emphasis on designing the appropriate educational environment by not paying due attention to the content of the educational content to be taught." In other words, it is worth stressing that the teaching content, what will be taught is the most important. It is equally necessary and important that the teaching content responds to the needs, abilities and particular learning attributes of each trainee. The learning environment should provide meaningful and authentic knowledge that will be useful in the everyday life the learner experiences. Practical learning through group educational games and case studies is the most important part of adult education (Brookfield, 1995)

(Hsiu-Mei Huang, Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments, British Journal of Educational Technology, Issue 33, No. 1, 2002).

Student-centered learning

Both Constructivism and andragogy approach have the similarity that they support self-directed learning and experiential learning (Knowles et al., 1998). A general view expressed for adult distance learners is that they are individuals, and generally people who support self-directed learning. This view of adults participating in distance learning programs seems to converge with the principles of student-centered psychology (American Psychology Association). Wagner and McCombs (1995) in the context of lifelong learning have argued that self-directed learning makes trainees active participants in the design of educational processes. In addition, trainees who adopt self-directed learning and personalized study have strong motivation for learning, set learning goals and evaluate at the end of the learning process if they have achieved them (Cranton, 1994).

(Hsiu-Mei Huang, Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments, British Journal of Educational Technology, Issue 33, No. 1, 2002).

High Quality Learning

Constructivism emphasizes that the trainee has control over what he learns, in his learning progress. Given that this is indeed the case, the trainee has the ability to use the knowledge he acquires as a resource in dealing with his everyday life. Unlike traditional or otherwise formal education, distance learning offers adult learners greater freedom to control their learning progress (Laurillard, 1998). With the rapid deployment of the Internet, each computer user can, through web browsers and search engines, transfer information and various files from thousands of available information resources to his computer. Trainees should therefore, based on the ocean of information provided by the internet, check and evaluate the information that is useful in the educational topic they approach and study. As Glasersfeld (1995) advocates of constructivism, knowledge is not in objective reality but it is energetically built by the individual. Brookfield (1995) emphasizes that the individual must develop critical thinking and take his life in his own hands, without being manipulated by others. Distance learning offers fertile ground for trainees to cross - check and evaluate information they receive from the web from various sources. Trainees in general would say that they need to learn how to manage, analyze, evaluate, cross-check and transform information into valuable knowledge (Lundin, 1998)

(Hsiu-Mei Huang, Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments, British Journal of Educational Technol ogy, Issue 33, No. 1, 2002).

5. Advantages and Disadvantages of E-learning

E-Learning offers a number of important advantages but also some drawbacks. The advantages are as follows:

1. Educational material is continuously available twenty-four hours a day. The trainee can access educational material at any time if there is a connection to the internet.
2. Electronic or distance learning services in case of an emergency, such as the possibility of a pandemic, can safely mitigate its consequences for stud ents, family peace and the national budget, since the educational process ca n be done without risk from home.
3. E-learning services are available to all people who have a computer and internet connection, without the need for a specially organized training area.
4. E-learning is effective when it comes to different ways of presenting, such as: multimedia (image, video, audio), performances, speech, interactive collaboration.
5. E-learning is rich in content, comprehensive and does not tire the trainee.
6. E-learning can be achieved in a number of ways, such as self-teaching, asynchronous collaboration, modern teaching, communication with the trainer and with the other trainees.
7. Participatory learning with active rather than passive learners is achieved.
8. Participatory learning with active rather than passive learners is achieved.
9. Segmentation of both presentation and content is being offered, offering possibilities for reuse and creating a common basis with many themes.

(Konstantinos Bourletidis, Special Scientific Associate National and Kapodistrian University of Athens)

On the other hand, there are some drawbacks, such as:

1. There is no traditional interaction of a classroom.
2. Technology for creating "modern" education is costly.
3. Creating digital content to meet needs at a personalized level is difficult and costly.

(Konstantinos Bourletidis, Special Scientific Associate National and Kapodistrian University of Athens)

6. Conclusions

The proliferation of new technologies, and in particular the Internet, minimizes obstacles to physical distance between trainer and trainees, in distance learning. Training program designers argue that distance learning requires the introduction of a new form of pedagogical approach structured in the relationship developed between trainer and adult learners. The principles of the philosophical stream of constructivism offer the ideological background that will help adult educators to create student- centered and collaborative environments that aim at the development of critical thinking from learners and learning through experience (Jonassen et al., 1995). The online discussion groups for distance learning are characterized by focusing on dialogue, focusing on the educational work to be done and on educational questions and the establishment of a cooperative climate between the trainer and the trainees.

As Chen states, "Distance learning is the result of communication, coordination and emphasis on principles that maintain coherence." Educational strategies, educational issues, and educational theories are other relevant variables to create a better learning environment for distance learning programs (Huang, 2000).

(Hsiu-Mei Huang, Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments, British Journal of Educational Technology, Issue 33, No. 1, 2002)

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The Effects of Constructivism Theory in the Environment of E-learning
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