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A Constructivistic Approach to Learning. William G. Huitt, Ph.D. Valdosta State University. Last revised: August 2000. Organism (O). Stimulus (S). Response (R). Cognitive Psychology.

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A Constructivistic Approach to Learning

William G. Huitt, Ph.D.

Valdosta State University

Last revised: August 2000








Cognitive Psychology

The constructive approach to learning is based on cognitive learning theory, represented as an S-O-R paradigm. The organism is treated as an active processor of information.


Cognitive Psychology

The constructive approach to learning is based on two different approaches to the study of how we come to know.

  • Information processing
  • Developmental

Information Processing

The most important aspect according to cognitive psychology is cognition, defined as

"the act or process of knowing in the broadest sense; specifically, an intellectual process by which knowledge is gained from perception or ideas" (Webster's Dictionary).


Information Processing

The information processing approach focuses on the study of the structure and function of mental processing within specific contexts, environments, or ecologies.

The most often discussed information processing theory is the stage approach.


The model is based on the work of Atkinson and Shriffin (1968) and proposes that information is processed and stored in three stages:

Atkinson, R., & Shiffrin, R. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In K Spence & J Spence (Eds.). The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 2). New York: Academic Press.

The Stage Theory

The focus of the stage theory is on how information is stored in memory.

  • Sensory memory
  • Short-term memory
  • Long-term memory

The Stage Theory

In summary, constructing long-term memory involves three separate processes :

  • Attention (process to STM)
  • Repetition (maintain in STM)
  • Elaboration (process to LTM)

Bloom´s Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain (started in 1948 and completed in 1956) was one of the most influential statements about levels of knowing.

The taxonomy contains six levels, with sublevels identified for each.


Bloom´s Taxonomy

A mnemonic device for remembering the six levels:




















Bloom´s Taxonomy

Research over the last 40 years confirms the taxonomy as a hierarchy with the exception of the last two levels.

Creative Thinking

Critical Thinking


Bloom´s Taxonomy

The student will define the 6 levels of Bloom's taxonomy of the cognitive domain.


The student will explain the purpose of Bloom's taxonomy of the cognitive domain.


The student will write an instructional objective for each level of Bloom's taxonomy.



Bloom´s Taxonomy

The student will compare and contrast the cognitive and affective domains.


The student will design a classification scheme for writing educational objectives that combines the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains.


The student will judge the effectiveness of writing

objectives using Bloom's taxonomy.



Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was one of the 20th centuries most influential researchers in the area of developmental psychology.

Piaget’s Theory

Piaget believed that what distinguishes human beings from other animals is our ability to do “abstract symbolic reasoning.”


Piaget’s Theory

Piaget's views are often compared with those of Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), who looked more to social interaction as the primary source of cognition and behavior.

Piaget believed that biological maturation establishes the preconditions for cognitive development. The most important changes are qualitative (changes in kind) rather than quantitative (changes in amount).


Piaget’s Theory

There are two major aspects to his theory:

  • the process of coming to know and
  • the stages we move through as we gradually acquire this ability.

Piaget’s training as a biologist influenced both aspects of his theory.


Piaget’s Theory

As a biologist, Piaget was interested in how an organism adapts to its environment (Piaget described this ability as intelligence.)

Behavior is controlled through mental organizations called schemes that the individual uses to represent the world and designate action.


Piaget’s Theory

This adaptation is driven by a biological drive to obtain balance between schemes and the environment (equilibration).

Therefore, establishing disequilibrium is the primary motivation for changing one’s mental structures.


Piaget’s Theory

Piaget described two processes used by the individual in its attempt to adapt:

  • assimilationand
  • accomodation.

Both of these processes are used thoughout life as the person increasingly adapts to the environment in a more complex manner.


Piaget’s Theory

As schemes become increasingly more complex (i.e., responsible for more complex behaviors) they are termed structures.

As one's structures become more complex, they are organized in a hierarchical manner (i.e., from general to specific).


Lev Vygotsky

Lev Vygotsky developed the sociocultural theory of cognitive development.

His theory has its roots in the Marxist theory of dialectical materialism (i. e., historical changes in society and material life produce changes in human nature.)


Lev Vygotsky

Vygotsky approached cognitive development from a process orientation. Rather than looking at the endpoint of developmental processes, he looked at the process itself and analyzed the subject's participation in social activities.

Vygotsky believes the child has two areas of development:

  • Current development
  • Zone of proximal development

Lev Vygotsky

Rather than looking at the endpoint of developmental processes, Vygotsky looked at the process itself and analyzed the child's participation in social activities.

He proposed that development does not precede socialization. Rather, social structures and social relations lead to the development of mental functions.


Lev Vygotsky

He believed that learning could occur through play, formal instruction, or work between a learner and a more experienced learner.

The basic process by which this occurs is mediation (the connection of two structures, one social and one personally constructed, through tools or signs.)

It is when the cultural signs become internalized that humans acquire the capacity for higher order thinking.


Lev Vygotsky

A key assumption made by Vygotsky is that during the course of development everything occurs twice.

  • The child first makes contact with the social environment. This occurs on an interpersonal level.
  • Then a child makes contact within himself, on an intrapersonal level.


Information processing—elaboration is the key to developing a knowledge base

Bloom—elaboration is progressive and leads to higher levels of knowing

Piaget—biological development establishes readiness for qualitative change; disequilibrium sets up the need for adaptation

Vygotsky—social interaction establishes the basis for learning; social and cultural tools and signs serve as mediators for learning