Customized Learning Theory:
A Constructivist Theory of Learning to Teach Technology in the Classroom
Celeste Wegner
Liberty University Online
Customized Learning Theory: A Constructivist Theory of Learning to Teach Technology in the
Not every student learns in the same way or at the same rate. Learning styles and study
skills are just as varied as the number of students. Teachers’ methods and teaching styles vary
depending on their experiences and educational background. Mark 4 says Jesus used various
methods of teaching, whether in parables or examples, and He explained everything to His
One method of learning is by social interaction as students work in groups. This method
incorporates the theories called constructivism. Constructivism has become a common term that
can mean many things to many different people. It is a move away from the traditionalist
method of teaching. While it has become popular since the approaches Piaget and Kohlberg
introduced, it is based on much of their ideas.
Constructivists see students as actively searching for new information and applying it to
previous knowledge and experiences. Assessment is done by the end product and not the process
used to arrive at that point. Many mathematics teachers would disagree with this assessment and
much of the area of technology would not succeed in this way.
For teachers to move from the traditionalist theory to the constructivist theory, will
require time, planning, clarifying and modifying. They may incorporate a combination of
traditionalist with constructivism (Alesandrini, Kathryn and Larson, Linda 2002).
Today society expects high school graduates to be able to accomplish far beyond the
abilities of those in the past decades. In a world where technology is prevalent in all areas of
society, graduates are expected to collaborate work in teams, lead, negotiate, and teach others.
Employers will not employ anyone that is not proficient in critical thinking skills, decision
making, and problem solving. Schools must prepare students to meet these challenges. This
cannot be accomplished any longer by using only traditional instruction. Students must be
taught with a combination of traditional methods and constructivism.
Virus of the Learning Theory
The process of learning goes back to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. When they disobeyed
God, they learned that sin has consequences. This was the beginning of the theory of
constructivism, where learning comes from past experiences. Throughout the Bible, we see this
concept learned. Abraham learned when he lied about Sarah being his sister. Moses learned
when he was not allowed into the Promised Land because of disobeying God. People have been
learning since Adam and Eve.
Learning takes place in a student’s life every day. Sometimes learning is intentional and
other times learning is unintentional. How this learning occurred, was not researched until the
early 19th century when Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner became interested in how the individual
learns, and they began to research and experiment with the idea. Through Pavlov and Skinner,
we have the concept of classical conditioning and operant conditioning. These theories enforce
learning as students receive either rewards or punishment (Slavin, 2012).
As early as the 19th century the theory of social learning was expanded by Albert
Bandura. He introduced the concept of social learning as students learned by observing and
imitating the behavior of others. Although it was not labeled constructivism, it was learning by
socialization. While the theory of social learning can be effective, Van Brummelen emphasizes a
concept that we must indubitably take into consideration. He agrees with the concept of Piaget,
Pestalozzi and John Dewey, but goes beyond their theories and states that students are also
image-bearers of God. Learning is meaningful only if it leads to an understanding of God’s call
that impels them to respond to discipleship and responsible action (Van Brummelen, 2009).
The Effective Teacher in the Classroom
The effective teacher is one who knows her subject matter, but she must also be able to
communicate her knowledge in a way that students learn and have enthusiasm to learn. In order
for the teacher to be effective, she learns the student’s learning styles and study skills, and how
they apply them. She is an intentional teacher and plans her lessons in such a way that students
achieve the intended learning outcomes (Slavin, 2012).
Carroll’s Model of School Learning and QAIT presents the effective teacher as one who
focuses the quality of instruction, appropriate level of instruction, the incentive for students to
learn and sufficient time for students to learn. Slavin points out that the most important aspect of
learning is the degree to which the lesson is understood by the student (Slavin, 2009). Van
Brummelen says that despite a lot of research on learning we still know little about being an
effective teacher. He believes teachers do much teaching based on their own experiences. In
order for teachers to be effective they must continually analyze and reflect on their teaching and
its effects. Brummelen points out that teaching is a religious act and should lead to walking in
the paths of God (Psalms 32:8). The teacher who leads the students to see life in both the
physical and spiritual realm will be the effective teacher. Van Brummelen portrays the effective
teacher as an artist, a technician, a facilitator, storyteller, craftsperson, a steward, a priest and a
shepherd-guide. The effective teacher will imitate Paul who became all things to all people in
order to win some – 1 Cor. 9:22.
The effective teacher will be one that incorporates Van Brummelen’s model of an
effective teacher and who is all things to all students and Slavin’s QAIT model.
Enhancing Learning through Constructivism
Researchers imply that the Piagetian Theory of Instruction has led to vast amounts of
educational research and that while it has been beneficial in some areas, it has failed to show
how his theory can be put into practice.
Constructivism is different things to different people and has created considerable
confusion and controversy in various areas of education. According to William Coburn,
constructivism is a process of constructing a conceptual framework. We learn by making sense
of what is experienced; therefore a practical idea, and is based on prior knowledge. In this
regard, while constructivism stresses activity, hands on learning is not enough. He says
constructivism is a model intended to describe learning and therefore, the student is always
involved in the process of meaningful learning. The student does not learn by transmission, but
by interpretation. Cobern advocates that further research will be needed to have a more
agreeable world view of constructivism across all educational areas (Cobern, 1993).
David W. Denton, of the Seattle Pacific University, introduces the concept of ‘Cloud
Computing’ into the concept of constructivism. He advocates that the impact of technology in
teaching and learning is anything but metaphorical. Departments of Education throughout the
nation are incorporating cloud computing with traditional educational technology. This is
proving to be a challenge as technology is becoming a part of the K-12 schooling experience. In
many college and graduate classes focus is being placed on constructivist and cooperative
Constructivism and cooperative pedagogy emphasize the connection between prior
knowledge and unfamiliar information to create new learning. Many lessons that the teacher
utilizes through traditional methods can be incorporated into group activities using the support of
cloud computing. In these group activities students can see the thoughts of their peers as they
type. This promotes open communication which is characteristic of constructivist teaching.
While cloud computing may be some time in the approach to constructivism and cooperative
learning, it is becoming more acceptable as time passes (Denton, 2012).
In his research on constructivism and its role in the classroom, David Perkins found that
it meant different knowledge to different people. He began his research by interviewing various
educators and asking, “What is constructivism?” One interviewee identified it with three roles of
constructivism – the active learner, the social learner, and the creative learner. The active learner
not only learns by reading, listening and working through routine exercises, but they also
discuss, debate, hypothesize, investigate and take viewpoints. The social learner gains
knowledge and understanding socially as they interact with other students. The creative learner
creates or recreates the knowledge that is presented to them. These three learners interrelate, but
the active learner will create activity, in addition, to the social and creative learner.
Constructivism has survived as teachers and students have become aware that active engagement
in learning results in better retention, understanding, and active use of knowledge. The effective
teacher will incorporate constructivist theory into her traditional methods to make available
every possible means of enhancing every student’s education.
Perkins introduces four kinds of knowledge that may be a challenge to the learner. Inert
Knowledge – giving students work that keeps the student alert to what has been learned rather
than “storing” it in the brain and not used. Ritual Knowledge – otherwise termed as routine,
such as birthdates, addresses, or phone numbers. Conceptually Difficult Knowledge – this is
usually prevalent in mathematics and science but may occur in any discipline. Foreign
Knowledge – comes from a perspective other than their own ideas or perceptions that come from
a culture other than one’s own. Constructivism takes into account that different individuals learn
in different ways. If a particular approach does not solve the problem, try another one, whatever
works (Perkins, 1999).
Kersten Reich introduces the theory of interactive constructivism, saying that it involves
the theoretical perspectives of pragmatism, and attempts to reconstruct them for present times.
He states that in recent decades there has been an increasing turn away from theory in education
worldwide. This change has come about as a tendency toward specialization, neglect of social,
cultural and political issues, and departure from the practice. Many teachers are becoming more
aware of the gap between theory and practice sanctioned by constructivists. Interactive
constructivism draws from John Dewey’s views on pragmatism. He promotes the idea that one
must not become so ingrained in a single theory that we stop or hesitate to enlarge one’s views;
change the direction of others and introduce some new perspectives on educational questions and
answers (Reich, 2007).
Slavin’s view on constructivism is that learners must individually discover and change
complicated information, compare it to old information, and revise rules that no longer work. He
draws from the work of Piaget and Vygotsky’s theories of social learning and mixed ability
groups. He supports Vygotsky’s four principles of learning; social learning, the zone of
proximal development, cognitive apprenticeship, and mediated learning.
Constructivist theory emphasizes the top-down rather than the bottom up instruction
which derives from the traditionalist approach. It also promotes the cooperative learning
approach that enhances learning when students communicate through discussion. Discovery
learning teaches the student to learn on their own as the teacher becomes the Encourager and
facilitator. Students learn independent problem solving and critical thinking skills.
Constructivists believe this arouses the student’s curiosity and motivates them to continue to
work until they find the answer. Self-regulated learning and scaffolding are two other areas of
constructivism that encourages the student to work independently, as the teacher guides the
students to work independently with the teacher as the guide.
Slavin supports the constructivist method of teaching content areas. This is especially
beneficial for instruction with students who have difficulty learning. In this method the teacher
models behavior that students do not comprehend. Small groups are designed to help low
achievers who have poor comprehension. This method is effective in all content areas and has
been found to improve low achievers’ skills in questioning and other metacognitive skills.
Van Brummelen presents constructivist teachers as “guides on the side” (Van
Brummelen, 2012). Students learn by interaction with other students. He believes teachers fall
short when learning is dependent on this method. Jesus did more than facilitate, he taught by
reading scripture and called people to follow it. Van Brummelen stresses the necessity of
teachers to instruct the students by setting the stage (preparing), disclosure (presenting),
reformulation (practicing), and transcendence (responding). When the teacher instructs and
models this instruction, students are prepared to fulfill His calling by using their gifts to serve
Him and their fellow man.
Technology in the Classroom
As we have viewed constructivism from many different angles, the question now is: what
place does it play in teaching technology in the classroom? From the views of several
researchers, constructivism poses a departure from traditional teaching practices. As a teacher of
technology in the classroom, the teacher is knowledgeable of the wide variety of purposes to help
students learn. Learning technology falls into several categories; word processing and
publishing, spreadsheets and databases, computer assisted instruction, the internet, multimedia,
integrated learning systems and computer programming.
According to Slavin the fastest growing technology application in schools involves the
internet. Internet gives schools access to a large variety of information. This information can be
used to help students become active, creative learners. The internet gives students access to
instructional games, simulation software, and problem solving programs (Slavin, 2012).
Computers provide opportunities to individualize instruction for students with
disabilities. In order to familiarize special needs students with the technology classroom, all
teachers work together to create objectives that include the activity, create a model, and reflect
upon their respective projects. With the use of computers, teachers witness that constructivism
goes beyond the typical hands on activity (Alesandrini & Larson, 2002).
Technology can be incorporated into any content area as a means of developing higher
order thinking skills, including defining problems, judging information, solving problems, and
drawing appropriate conclusions. A major benefit to integrating technology to support
constructivism includes the ability to obtain relevant information in the form of documents,
photographs, transcripts, video and audio clips. Technology also has the capacity to provide
virtual experiences that otherwise would be impossible. Technology will play a large part in the
efforts to reform education. Technology provides rich and flexible media for representing what
students know and what they are learning. We must ask the question – How can technology
become intellectual partners with students? This will happen when teachers and students
understand that technology is more than hardware. Learners and technologies should be
intellectual partners (Jonassen, Howland, Marra, & Crismond, 2012)
Van Brummelen says that students are a part of a world that cannot function without
technology. This does not provide evidence that teaching and learning improves academic
performance. While technology is taking over some of the tasks of life, it is becoming more
important for people to relate well with others (Van Brummelen, 2009).
A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial. 1
Corinthians 12:7.
Personal Reflection
As I studied the textbooks and PowerPoint profiles, I have become aware that my
learning theory is a combination of traditional and constructivism. My learning occurs best in a
hands on environment. I work best when I am doing something actively rather than in a
lecturing or viewing environment. As a teacher of technology, my planning must take into
consideration that all students do not learn according to my learning style.
When planning the lessons and activities for my students, I will take into account what I
learned from my Study Skills Inventory and adjust my study skills to meet the needs of my
students. I will establish behavior expectations and instruction, and then become a facilitator as
students work individually and in small groups. My Philosophical Methodology of Learning
Profile results made me aware that my strengths are in Traditionalism and Progressivism. This
will reveal itself in my style of teaching. As a traditionalist, I will give instruction on how to
approach the lesson, and the steps that are to be taken. Jesus gave his Disciples instructions and
then sent them out to follow through with those instructions. He kept their efforts at His
attention. As a progressivist, I will guide students to explore all possibilities on the computer.
They will be given projects, both individually and in cooperative groups, which will encourage
critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making. Assessments will be made on both
work in progress and the end product.
Students will begin to think about technology as a learning tool that students learn with,
not from as their learning changes.
Studying the learning theories of constructivism made it clear that the teacher will need to
incorporate the traditional learning theories with constructivism. Students come from various
backgrounds and abilities. This has a tremendous effect on how they learn.
While teachers have relied on tradition methods to a large extent in the past,
constructivism has also been practiced. Teaching must put the emphasis on the student’s
individual needs, and their abilities to work both independently and in small groups. The recent
trend seems to be on constructivism, even though it goes back to the theories of Piaget and
Vygotsky. The student gains much knowledge by interacting with other students. The teacher
presents the necessary instruction and allows the student to develop critical thinking skills and
problem solving by working with a group.
Erikson theorizes that students begin learning at an early age, and they continue to
develop through stages that build on each other. The intentional teacher designs the classroom
so that students move through these stages according to their abilities and learning styles. The
classroom is a place where students feel safe, loved, encouraged, and eager to learn. Students
receive instruction whether their learning style is auditory, visual, or kinetic. Technology is
incorporated into the lessons, as well.
The teacher that is cognizant of their learning style will take it into consideration and, if
needed, will work with other teachers of a different Philosophical Methodology of Learning
Profile. As the teachers plan and work together, students of every learning style can become
The effective teacher is the one who displays the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control in her every day work with her
students (Gal. 5:22).
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