Pros & Cons of Constructivism in the Classroom

Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Constructivism is a theory of learning that focuses on the construction of knowledge. The learning process is promoted through mental activities, observations and beliefs to interpret information. Teachers who use constructivism in the lessons engage students in activities that incorporate real-life examples.

Information is taught by the teacher, but many times instruction is only facilitated because students learn through self-exploration.


The progressive education movement led by Jean Piaget and John Dewey eventually moulded into constructivism theory. Piaget concluded that people learn through the mental building of logical structures throughout life. Dewey believed that children learn through engagement and not from listening to instruction. Besides Piaget and Dewey, others assisted in the emergence of constructivism through concepts based in education, philosophy, sociology and psychology.


San Francisco State University highlights 10 principles of constructivism. The principles are: learning takes time; the construction of learning is within the mind; learning involves engagement in the environment; learning occurs as a person learns; learning is a social activity; learning involves language; motivation is required for learning; learning is contextual; to learn you need knowledge; and learning is not passive. Together, the principles for constructivism build a theory of a self-paced creative-learning environment.


Children often enjoy the learning process if they are engaged in activities rather than listening to instruction. A significant benefit to the theory of constructivism is that children can carry this learning style throughout life. Constructivism principles allow adults to play an active role in the discovery of new information. A higher level of thinking occurs when a person utilises all facilities instead of a select few. A sense of ownership is created within a child when the learning occurs from hands-on experience and investigation rather than being given new information by someone else.


Teachers using constructivism theory may believe learning is based on the child's ability to discover new knowledge and not on the abilities of the teacher. Some argue that teachers may not take responsibility for poor learning in the classroom because of constructivism's focus on self learning. Other critics believe that children who are encouraged to learn using constructivism may lean on "group thinking," which often results in a majority-rules philosophy. Public-school classrooms contain students from both privileged and underprivileged families. Students from lower-class families could be disadvantaged in a self-motivated and hands-on learning style compared to children from upper-class families.