There are advantages and disadvantages to the theory of constructivism. On the positive side, it means that children are ferocious learners because they have the innate neural tools in place to properly absorb and classify information. Piaget would argue that children need only be given the stimuli -- environment, information or other factors -- at the appropriate time when a child's brain is ready to absorb information.
Piaget suggested that learning takes place in stages. During one period, for example, a child might be fascinated by volumes, numbers and the relationship between them. The child may then want to focus on understanding everything that there is to do with size, volume, counting and other mathematical and geometric concepts. Once that child's framework has been 'filled,' his curiosity is sated and he/she moves to another framework waiting to be filled.
The disadvantage of using Piaget's theory is that it makes it difficult to regiment children. That is, the standard school structure which teaches an entire class in small increments of knowledge in many subjects may keep many children bored, with a few hungering for more. This is not a fault of Piaget's theory of constructivism -- it is more a concern about the structure of teaching at the elementary school level.
Postulate: Constructivist theory applies best to teaching for the construction trades
This author has reviewed the various theories of learning, and postulates that the constructivist theory works best for teaching construction trades. The primary benefits of using constructivism is that it enables the student to create meaningful structures in which to absorb information, then gives them the ability to fill those frameworks at their pace.
This author believes that Piaget's theory of how children learn can be extended to teenagers with equal success. While one can discuss differences according to age and type of mental constructs which are erected for learning, one can also observe that different individuals bring more or less concrete structures to different kinds of learning. The boy who has a clear liking for abstract numbers may make more elaborate learning constructs, and expect to learn more about that particular area. A girl may create elaborate mental frameworks for her study of English literature, for example, which would require her to learn a great deal more about that subject than others that are available.
Piaget would probably agree that learning involves all the senses, and that these frameworks can be physical as well as mental. One learns the craftsman's trade by mastering a series of areas. This may involve, for example, learning then perfecting abilities in carpentry, in flooring, coating, welding and a series of other skills, each of which has its own framework. Some children may naturally trend towards the construction trades because of how they learn -- many are manually dexterous and have curious minds when it comes to solving construction problems. Piaget would argue in his constructivist way that those children have learned from previous bouts of learning how to construct more elaborate 'physical constructs' in order to improve their manual dexterity and physical/construction problem solving skills.
The classic vision of teaching the construction trades to apprentices was that the kids were not smart enough to handle the 'abstract,' or 'higher-level' cognitive skills. This author believes that problem-solving in the construction trades requires a similar degree of complexity and learning as compared with most other professions. In "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, (Pirsig, 1974)," the author contests the 'dumb repairman' model of constructivist thinking as it applies to working with mechanical devices. He demonstrates that building or repairing mechanical equipment is more a process of thought than simple elbow grease.
Constructivist theory explains how children and teens learn by creating preferred frameworks. In this case, as a teacher, the author must recognize the learners' needs to create an understandable framework which will help them to understand not only the subject, but how to 'frame' the subject matter in a way that they can understand the whole. Once the student has formed this learning framework, they can then fill it with relevant information.
The more that a student builds these learning frameworks and satisfies his curiosity by 'populating' the frame with information, the more able the student is to generalize and solve problems that he/she may not have encountered in the past.
The four learning theories discussed in this paper are only a few examples of many ways to understand how we learn, and how to teach. This author can learn from each of these learning theories what works and what doesn't. In the author's opinion, the type of student being taught and the teacher's style of learning make a difference in conformity to one of these theories.
In the author's opinion, constructivist theory helps the teacher of children and teens for construction best. It offers concrete suggestions on how to help create knowledge frameworks for students, to give them the tools to fill those frameworks, and then with increasing knowledge to be able to generalize and use skills to solve unfamiliar problems.
Bandura, a. (1988). Organizational Application of Social Cognitive Theory. Australian Journal of Management, 275-302.
Hetherington, E. & . (1999). Child Psychology: A Contemporary Viewpoint. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Pirsig, R. (1974). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. New York: William Morrow.
Skinner, B. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. New York: D. Appleton-Century.