Radical Constructivism

On the way to understand the real concept of Radical Constructivism

Modul 2. Radical Constructivism

A. Paul Ernest: “The One and The Many”

.1. Defining metaphors: Summarise the contrasting metaphors of the mind and metaphors of the world as we move from empiricism thru various forms of constructivism. A summary table would be helpful.

The author explain the idea of one and many in this paper which one means clarification of the concept of constructivism which is different from others. Many means different types of constructivism. However, the author face dilemma on the idea of constructivism is the only paradigms which survive which as almost many varieties of constructivism. Finally, the author bring the idea of “the one” as different positions which are common in the concept of constructivism and “the many” as analyzing differences between different positions of constructivism.This table is summarise of “many” different types of constructivism:

Forms of Constructivism

Metaphors of Mind

Metaphors of World

Traditional Empiricism

· Mind as empty bucket , mirror

· The objects in mind is reflection of the reality

Students receive the knowledge passively

· Absolute Newtonian physical space (moved and positioned)

· The world is out there based on observations

· Students’ misconceptions related to carelessness in application or differences with the reality

Information-Processing Theory

· Mind as computer

· Processing, recalling, and memorizing information (interactive)

· Process on human problem solving (active mental processing)

· Students receive the knowledge through complex mechanical process

· Absolute Newtonian physical space populated by material objects

· The world of things we experience are out there

· True knowledge and certainty

Trivial Constructivism

· Mind as an ideal “soft” computer (brain)

· Self-constructed of information

· All individual knowledge is constructed

· Absolute Newtonian physical space

· The knowledge are constructed to match with the world

· Constructed truths can be recognized by the information from the world

Sociocultural Cognition

· Mind as game player and strategist

· Involves rational rules, scripts, and procedures which extended from simply computer processing

· It has goal, strategies, and deliberation

· Absolute Newtonian physical space involves human society

· Apprenticeship, participation, and social activities

· Social aspects in teaching and learning situation

Radical Constructivism

· Mind as an organism undergoing evolution

· Cognitive evolution

· Cognition is adaptive based on the experience, not discover of reality

· Experienceable, but not knowable

· Recognize the existence of subjectivity on individual experience to interpret the world

· Knowledge being constructed by dialogue between cognitive process and individual experiential world

Social Constructivism

· Person in conversation and person in meaningful interaction and dialogue

· Social construction of meaning

· Effects of social contexts within the construction of self, beliefs, and cognition

· Socially constructed world that creates the share reality of the underlying physical reality

· The essential and constitutive nature of language and social interaction

Social Constructionism (both social and radical constructivism but less developed)

· Mind as dialogue or drama

· Introjected social dimension

· Individuals as actors

· The mental is to be found in social performance and public display

· Social reality

Based on summary of this table, constructivism views could be divided into trivial constructivism and radical constructivism. Because I found radical constructivism has great differences with others constructivism, especially on the metaphor of the world in. It also helps me to understand that the different perceptions on different types of constructivism which is common divided into personal, social, and radical constructivism Tyter (2002). Personal constructivism focuses on the prior knowledge of individual which can be constructed by individual. Then, social constructivism focuses on individual construct the knowledge throughout the social process. Both of these types constructivism emphasize the “conceptual change”. On the other hand, radical constructivism focuses on the way students find the truth and the notion of truth itself (metaphor of the world) is different from other constructivism.

2. Concept of Epistemology: What is the difference between Cvst epistemology and other epistemologies? (Reading EvG’s 2 papers may help with this question, so perhaps come back to it later.)

There are two main views to understand the differences epistemology of constructivist and others which are psychological and philosophical.




Based on Philosophical:

· The theory of knowledge which concern on “the logical categories of knowledge and its justificational basis”. It involves both subjectivity of individual’s knowledge and conventional knowledge

· Knowledge is stronger than beliefs

· Context of justification

· Requires self regulation, building conceptual structure through reflection and abstraction

· Students’ experiential world is important

· Active learning process

· Meaningful learning experiences

Based on Psychological:

· The theories of knowledge development which is constructed by individuals, theories, and general conditions of learning

· Persons’ beliefs are stronger than their knowledge

· Context of discovery

· Knowledge as absolute true

· Learning is stimulus and response

· Passive learning process

· Memorizing, rote learning

Constructivist is different from the traditional view of learning in sense of the view of knowledge, truth, objectivity, and reality. “The traditional view of knowledge is based on the common-sense belief that a real world exists regardless of whether we take interest in it or even notice it” (Bodner, 1986, p.874). The traditional knowledge implies that the knowledge is reality that will be replied in learners’ mind. As a result, teacher task is transferring the knowledge to the learners. Furthermore, traditional education view focused on “instructional goals such as recalling facts, generalization, defining concepts and performing procedures” (Almala, 2005, p.9). Therefore, this view ignores the difference of preexisting knowledge of individual. Moreover, one traditional epistemology such behaviorist concerns on the power of reinforcement. In this view, EvG points out than this learning theory focus on students’ performance rather than the reason behind the learners’ responds. Therefore, traditional view of learning focuses on students’ achievement.

On the other hand, constructivist “emphasize reasoning, critical thinking, social negotiation, self regulation and mindful reflection” (Almala, 2005, p.9). Constructivism focuses on the knowledge which is constructed in the learners’ mind (Bodner, 1986). It is an active process in which the learners actively construct knowledge as they try to comprehend their reality world. Because every student has different experiences, teacher has to be aware that knowledge is constructed differently in the learners’ mind. Through the teaching and learning process, learners will face the problems if their knowledge is not match with the “acceptable” concepts (which are recognized in personal and social constructivism). Therefore, constructivist view learning as the product of interaction between existing understanding and new knowledge (Parkinson, 2004). Furthermore, construcvism also recognized the influence of social context within the meaning making of knowledge. Therefore, it generates the concept of collaboration and discussion in classroom activities. Moreover according to EvG, the basic concept of constructivism is based on Piaget’s idea which embrace the knowledge should represent the real world as existing, separate, and independent of knower. This view brings the idea of learners have independences about their own reality. It doesn’t mean deny the reality, but there is no certainty in the reality. EvG points out that constructivism doesn’t ignore the conceptual knowledge, but teachers have to consider the nature of cognition which is adaptive. As a result, students could have different level of cognitive which influence by their effort to find the reality within their experiential world.

3. Pedagogical Implications: For Paul Ernest summarise the major pedagogical implications of Cvsm?

Paul Ernest point out several major implications of constructivism on pedagogical practices which concern on knowledge which is constructed by individual, the role of social context, the importance of individual experiences and subjectivity of knowledge. Through the personal constructivism which is recognized by many paradigms other than traditional empiricisms, teacher has to be aware that knowledge is constructed differently in the learners’ mind which is influenced by their interaction and experience with the environment. Teacher could explore the prior knowledge of students then use the information to guide students’ conceptions. Therefore, diagnostic skills become important in this stage. In addition, teachers can use the information of the students’ preexisting knowledge to create the instruction which can avoid the “misunderstanding” of concepts. Teacher should help students to construct their own meaning and knowledge through the active process such as metacognition on self regulation. As a result, learning process will be the meaningful experiences for the students.

Ernest move on to the radical and social constructivism provide main implications on pedagogical practices such as knowledge are subjective, even for the mathematics and other logic knowledge, the teaching strategies will be more reflexive rather than finding the truth. Moreover, the focus is not only learners’ cognition, but also on their beliefs and knowledge conceptions. As a result, teachers’ beliefs, conceptions, and personal understanding on subject matter become more important than teachers’ knowledge on subject matter and teaching strategies. Furthermore, different learners have different realities in their mind. Therefore, there is not fixed reality. Especially, in social constructivism, it emphasizes the idea of social context for meaning making such as discussion, collaboration, and negotiation.

B. Ernst von Glasersfeld: “A Cvst Approach to Teaching” & “Why Some Like it Radical”

4. Concept of Viability: In Cvst theory viability is the key alternative to the traditional criterion of objective truth (or ‘Truth’). Explain the concept of viability in terms of EvG’s two principles of RC, and differentiate Trivial Cvsm (the weak program) from Radical Cvsm (the strong program).
Please note that Cvsm deals with conceptual knowledge and thus is not a theory of knowing that necessarily applies to faith-based (revealed) knowledge whose truth has a moral and spiritual dimension. (Although RC is well recognised in Buddhism!)

Ernst provides two principles of radical constructivism within the concept of viability. First, knowledge is subjective based on the construction in individual mind through individual experience with the world. Therefore, it emphasizes the active process to build the knowledge. Second, the function of cognitive is adaptive, viability, and serves the experiential world, not discover the truth of reality.

Based on these two principles, trivial constructivism recognizes the principle of individuals construct their own knowledge which influence by their interaction with the world, but this constructivism emphasize the objectivity of knowledge which is contradict with the second principle. As a result, within this constructivism, learners have to change their own conceptions to match with the reality which recognized as the truth.

The concept of viability replaces the idea of finding the truth within the trivial constructivism. According to EvG, “viability-quite unlike truth”-is relative context of goals and purposes” which means it can be relative and specific problems solution regarding to the experiential world/subjective construction. “This kind of truth” can be never claimed for the knowledge (any piece of it) that human reason produces”. The individual experiences of the world become most important within the construction of knowledge. There are no forces for individual to accept the others truth of reality. As a result, individuals have their own degree of knowledge, because the truth becomes subjective.

5. Social Interaction: How does RC account for social interaction in the process of an individual building his/her conceptual understanding in the company of others?

In the paper, EvG recognizes the way to acquire knowledge is through the social interactions. EvG explains that Piaget’s work also explicitly points out the role of social interaction to build individuals knowledge. Even though, Piaget not focus on how the social interactions work on individual construction, but the idea of logical structures of child are developed through their world experiences, explicitly mentions the idea of social interaction. Because social interactions are part of individual environment, it will contribute the individual image of objects in reality.

Furthermore, related to learners’ construction of other objects, learners learn to predict other objects that they construct within their experiential world by interaction with others. Elaboration becomes important to contribute on the knowledge of other subjects, because individuals’ abstraction is constrained by the social interaction through collaboration, and communication with others. In addition, individuals should learn to explain their construction “others and society” based on their own experiential world. As a result, social interaction becomes important to construct individuals’ conceptions.

6. Cvsm & Pedagogy: For EvG, what are the main pedagogical implications of RC? And what types of teaching practice seem to be ‘anti-constructivist’? Recall that in the previous topic the Willison/Taylor paper argues for multiple epistemologies of teaching and learning. This is still a somewhat heretical idea for many RC advocates who wish for ‘pure’ Cvst teaching approaches. You might be interested to read my review of a recent book on RC (see Additional Readings).

The main pedagogical implications of radical constructivism concern on the concept of knowledge and truth. The notion of knowledge is adaptive, emphasizes the difference level of conceptual. The notion of the truth is replaced by the viability which recognizes the individual experiential world. In teaching, EvG points out that, giving the “right” answer which used to emphasize by trivial constructivism is not the solution. Learners should recognize problems as their own and have desire to solve by their own as their own goal. It will motivate the learners because they will satisfy with their effort or their viable way to achieve the goal. It becomes effective motivation because satisfaction is subjective and individual.

The radical constructivism encourages teachers to explore, listen, and interpret students’ thinking which to have the framework of students’ conceptual structure as “fallible enterprise”. Without this process, the process of conceptual change will be useless, because the concepts which recognize as “misconception” are quite viable for the students’ experiential world. Therefore, engaging students through their experience is important to change students’ thinking. Moreover, teachers should facilitate students to see the problems as their own and find their own solution. As students could see their solution is inadequate, they will change their thinking. In science teaching, EvG provides the idea for the teachers to teach the scientific theory through historical and practical context rather than the absolute truth.

On the other hand, “anti-constructivist’ applies the pedagogical practices under finding the truth and considers the learners as empty basket. Teaching is communication of the knowledge which leads to replication of knowledge into students’ minds. They assume that the learners receive the match knowledge that is transferred by the teacher. Moreover, the reinforcement become effective way to motivate the learners and could be standardized. Stimulus and response emphasizes in the learning process as similar as training process which performances are important. Therefore, anti-constructivist focuses on learners’ performance or achievement as the indicator of successful on the learning process.

In implication of these two different concepts, Willison and Taylor provide the idea of integral perspective on science teaching which consider the complementary of objectivist (anti-constructivist and constructivist). Personally, this concept helps me to dialog with these different approaches. Rather than, I focus on the competition between the anti constructivist and constructivist in teaching, it will be engaging the students if I could complement both of these views. As a result, constructivism is powerful to engage and empowerment the students, but rote learning is also useful to be applied in the classroom.


Almala, A.. (2005). A constructivist conceptual framework for a quality e-learning environment. Distance Learning, 2(5), 9-13.

Bodner, G.M. (1986). Constructivism: A theory of knowledge. Journal of Chemical Education, 63(10), 873-878.

Ernest, P. (1995). The one and the many. In L. P. Steffe & J. Gale (eds.), Constructivism in education (pp.459-486). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Parkinson, J. (2000). Improving secondary science teaching. London: Routledge Falmer.

von Glasersfeld, E. (1990). An exposition of constructivism: Why some like it radical. In R.B. Davis, C.A. Maher & N..Noddings (Eds.), Constructivist Views on Teaching and Learning of Mathematics (pp. 19-29). Reston, VA:NCTM.

von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). A constructivist approach to teaching. Steffe & J.Gale (Eds). (1995). Constructivism in education, (pp.3-16). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tytler, R. (2002). Teaching for understanding in science: student conceptions research, & changing views of learning. Australian Science Teachers’ Journal, 48(3), 14-21.

Willison, J.W. & Taylor, P.C. (in press). Complementary epistemologies of science teaching: Towards an integral perspective. Draft chapter of Analogy and Metaphor in Science Education. The Netherland: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


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