How do children learn? Social Constructivism

Just one theory on how children learn

There are many different theories on how children learn and every theory has its supporters, and of course its critics.

In the past, education was based on Behaviourism as a theory of learning. This was the idea that teachers, tutors and parents know everything and feed their knowledge to children (the learners). This theory thought of children as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge in the classroom.

A more modern, contemporary theory which is highly recognised in schools today is Social Constructivism.


What is Social Constructivism for children?

Social Constructivism promotes the importance of social interaction and learning through experience. It is believed that children learn best through interaction: interactions both with people and the world around them.

Social Constructivism argues that the learning will be stronger if a child or adult actively constructs ideas as opposed to the process of transmission where facts are poured into the mind of the child or adult.

The supporters of the Social Constructivism theory argue that it would be counter-productive simply telling children the answer without them really believing why. Children will learn best by developing their existing ideas and experiences through hands-on, practical experiences. Through exploring and investigating, a child is thinking through their actions and coming to conclusions himself. The result is a much deeper understanding of the learning.

This kind of learning stresses the importance of self-discovery, where children take control of their learning and explore and discover through being actively engaged. It is argued that, children will develop their existing ideas when they encounter new evidence” (Howe et al, 2005:4).

The importance of role play and socialisation are both closely linked to the Social Constructivism theory.



How can I encourage my child to learn?

As a parent you can learn from the techniques that teachers and tutors who believe in social constructivist use. You can:

  • Encourage collaboration and work with other people
  • Build on what children already know
  • Scaffold activities to enhance learning
  • Develop language through communication with adults and peers
  • Allow children to experiment for themselves
  • Build a safe, effective classroom environment
  • Know when to intervene and when to leave children to explore.
Not only does this more naturally fit with children’s inquisitive natures but it may also be more fun and confidence building for them than fact-based "right or wrong" learning.

The essence of the Social Constructivism approach is that the action of learning itself is just as important as what is learnt.  Learning for yourself, independently of a teacher, tutor or parent are skills for life.



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