Information processing theory and constructivism differ fundamentally on their stance towards the nature of knowledge and the goals of education. In information processing theory, the goal of education is to transfer information, skills, and frameworks to students. In contrast, constructivism focuses more on giving students the tools to interpret and create knowledge, as constructivism does not hold knowledge to be as static as information processing theory. Constructivism acknowledges that our understanding of the universe has evolved and will continue to evolve; thus, a constructivist teacher would focus on giving students the ability to acquire general knowledge and skills rather than using a class to transfer a specific set of knowledge and skills (Schunk, 2016). Unsurprisingly, this classrooms would look very different.
In an ideal constructivist classroom, the instruction is student-centered, with the teacher serving as a facilitator or guide. The instructor’s goal is to facilitate students’ engagement; they connect previous informal knowledge to new material. Students are arranged in flexible groupings to maximize the peer-based learning and collaboration that allow multiple perspectives to offer students individualized pathways and frameworks for understanding. Although students are assessed on their learning, it is for the purpose of allowing both student and teacher to assess progress, and often takes the form of projects, creative pieces, or portfolios. Teachers engage in discussion and dialogue to guide student learning and assess understanding. There is a cyclical process of exploration and questioning (Schunk, 2016). Learning itself is provocative and engaging.
Alternately, in an information processing classroom, the instruction is more teacher-centered. For example, a teacher might demonstrate how to solve a problem on the board, which the students would at first mimic, then apply to other problems, and then extend into more complex problems or practice recognizing and recalling the technique. Students are summatively assessed for content knowledge. The teacher plays an active role in keeping the classroom environment quiet and circulates to ensure that students are on-task and continuing to proceed in the activities designed to transfer knowledge. Communication often consists of the teacher asking questions, followed by student response. Recess is a break from learning.
I tend to follow a constructivist framework in my classroom. Students learn more and are more engaged in the active activities of constructivism compared to some of the passive learning that occurs in a teacher-led classroom. Students learn not just information, but how to think about, understand, and apply this information and knowledge to real-world situations. The approach that each individual student takes will inevitably vary based on their background and personal experiences.
Schunk, D. H. (2016). Learning theories: An educational perspective – With access (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.