Article 4: Constructivism

Constructivism claims that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. We reconcile new observations and experiences with our previous ideas and experiences. This might change our perceptions, or the new information and experiences might be discarded, depending on how we process it in our minds. This means that we create our own knowledge by asking questions and exploring things, which would inevitably be subjective.[1] Elkind[2] defined constructivism as follows:

“Constructivism is the recognition that reality is a product of human intelligence interacting with experience in the real world.”

Ethics is an important value in constructivism. Constructivists recognise the importance of the construction and the way in which data is collected as prerequisites for validity and accuracy of analysis. The quality of data and the way in which it is analysed determine the nature of reality and how it is interpreted.     

Constructivism is mostly used with grounded theory methodology.[3] Human interests are important for research purposes, with the result that the paradigm can also be used with several other research methods, for example action research, case study research, ethnography, etc. A multitude of data collecting methods can be used, for example interviews, participant observation, artefacts, and almost any documents that are relevant to the field of study.[4]

The aim of such research is to understand situations or phenomena. Rich data is gathered from which ideas can be formed. It involves a researcher collaborating with participants. The interaction of people is researched in their context or setting, mostly to solve social problems of the target group. The accuracy of research findings is validated and creates an agenda for change or reform. This is a rather well-known sequence of events that is followed in most qualitative research methodology.

Constructivism is also closely associated with pragmatism, relativism, liberalism, interpretivism, symbolic interactionism and positivism. For example, like positivism, constructivism also uses observation to gather information. Different from positivism, which argues that knowledge is generated in a scientific method, i.e. externally, you, as the researcher, are part of what is being observed, i.e. internally. This is called an ‘emic’ approach, which means observing the community, also called the target group, from the inside. An ‘etic’ approach would mean to observe the target group from the outside, as in the case of positivism.

Although some academics claim that constructivism can be positively associated with behaviourism, this is a rather weak and unconvincing link because of the absence of reflection in the case of behaviourism. This, however, is also questionable because “learned history” without reflection does not make sense. Constructivism also rejects scientism and empiricism for much the same reason, i.e. lack of reflection.

Constructivism is rather widely criticised in terms of its value, or lack of value in education as well as its lack of balance when used as a philosophy in research. In education it can lead to group thinking when the interpretation of one or a few prominent educators or scientists is regarded as “the only truth”.

Constructivists sometimes place too much emphasis on sensory experience at the expense of reflection. This means that constructivists sometimes focus strongly on the ontology, i.e. “what is” and neglect the epistemology, i.e. the “explanation” and “justification” of the phenomenon, with the result that knowledge is not sufficiently proven to be valid or accurate.

Different academics integrate constructivism with other paradigms, research methods and realities, thereby robbing it of its identity as a valid research paradigm.

[1] Accessed on 22/11/2017.

[2] In Accessed on 22/11/2017.

[3] N.K. Denzin and Y.S. Lincoln, 2018: 416.

[4]… Accessed on 01/05/2018.

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