| Von Glasersfeld's answers - September 2004  |



Dr. von Glasersfeld:

I have been reading about the Objectivism vs. Constructivism debate.
As a radical constructivist, do you feel that Instructional Design Models, such
as Dick Carey & Carey's and Morrison Ross & Kemp's, are obsolete because the
process emphasizes selecting learning objectives and then selecting strategies
based on these objectives? Are there any Instructional Design models that you
feel come close to supporting the constructivist view?

In the May 1991 issue of Educational Technology, Walter Dick indicated:

"What about constructivist interventions. Do they have specific learning
objectives for each student? Apparently not. Is the organization of content as
well as practice and feedback activities focused on specific outcomes?
Apparently not. Are criterion-referenced assessments provided for each learner
to determine if they have mastered the instructional skills? Apparently not.
Therefore, if instructional designers design instruction, then constructivists
are constructing something else. This 'something else' may be a desirable
educational intervention, but it does not appear to be instruction."

What is your response to this?

Thank you,
Wendy Mahan


Dear Ms, Mahan,

RC holds that learning always takes off from conceptual structures the student already has, These structures are different in different students, because the experiential situations in which they were formed were different. Hence RC does not provide fixed curricula. Instead it requires the teacher to have a repertoire of tasks and problems that are likely to lead the solver to build up procedures that may prove useful for other problems as well. After trying to find out "where"the student is in his/her thinking, the teacher then selects items from his/her repertoire which seem appropriate.

RC makes demands on teachers which frequently are not welcome.

I fully agree with the quotation from Mr. Dick: RC cannot produce "instruction" in the traditional sense, but it does suggest alternative patterns of teaching.

The problem of assessment is the most troublesome one.  I have always maintained that the only way to test a students abilities is to see how he approaches a problem that he/she has never seen before; and the way he/she adopts is far more important in assessing their skills than whether a solution is actually found.

If you want practical applications, look at: EvG (editor), Radical Constructivism in Mathematics Education, Kluwer Academic, 1991,

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld



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