Weekly Math Updates

September 3rd , 2008


  • Study shows there are NO studies that support constructivism
  • Media Articles

Study shows there are NO studies that support constructivism

I received a link to this article recently and it's one of the best studies I've read through.  It explains how learning works in constructivist and instructivist settings and why constructivism is not only less effective, but actually damages the learning process. I've put part of the conclusion below.

Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching



After a half-century of advocacy associated with instruction using minimal guidance, it appears that there is no body of research supporting the technique. In so far as there is any evidence from controlled studies, it almost uniformly supports direct, strong instructional guidance rather than constructivist-based minimal guidance during the instruction of novice to intermediate learners. Even for students with considerable prior knowledge, strong guidance while learning is most often found to be equally effective as unguided approaches. Not only is unguided instruction normally less effective; there is also evidence that it may have negative results when students acquire misconceptions or incomplete or disorganized knowledge. Although the reasons for the ongoing popularity of a failed approach are unclear, the origins of the support for instruction with minimal guidance in science education and medical education might be found in the post-Sputnik science curriculum reforms such as Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Chemical Education Material Study, and Physical Science Study Committee. At that time, educators shifted away from teaching a discipline as a body of knowledge toward the assumption that knowledge can best or only be learned through experience that is based only on the procedures of the discipline. This point of view appears to have led to unguided practical or project work and the rejection of instruction based on the facts, laws, principles, and theories that make up a discipline’s content. The emphasis on the practical application of what is being learned seems very positive. However, it may be an error to assume that the pedagogic content of the learning experience is identical to the methods and processes (i.e., the epistemology) of the discipline being studied and a mistake to assume that instruction should exclusively focus on application. It is regrettable that current constructivist views have become ideological and often epistemologically opposed to the presentation and explanation of knowledge. As a result, it is easy to share the puzzlement of Handelsman et al. (2004), who, when discussing science education, asked: “Why do outstanding scientists who demand rigorous proof for scientific assertions in their research continue to use and, indeed defend on the bias of intuition alone, teaching methods that are not the most effective?” (p. 521). It is also easy to agree with Mayer’s (2004) recommendation that we “move educational reform efforts from the fuzzy and unproductive world of ideology—which sometimes hides under the various banners of constructivism—to the sharp and productive world of theory-based research on how people learn” (p. 18).


Media Articles

Debunking Utah's ACT test score myth

"Are Utah youngsters among the stupidest kids on God's green Earth?
    That's what a reasonable person might conclude based on ACT scores over the past 20 years. "

Till next time,

Oak Norton

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