Collaboration between learners

Learners with different skills and backgrounds should collaborate in tasks and discussions in order to arrive at a shared understanding of the truth in a specific field.

Most social constructivist models, such as that proposed by Duffy and Jonassen (1992), also stress the need for collaboration among learners, in direct contradiction to traditional competitive approaches. One Vygotskian notion that has significant implications for peer collaboration, is that of the zone of proximal development. Defined as the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers, it differs from the fixed biological nature of Piaget's stages of development. Through a process of 'scaffolding' a learner can be extended beyond the limitations of physical maturation to the extent that the development process lags behind the learning process.

The importance of context

The social constructivist paradigm views the context in which the learning occurs as central to the learning itself.

Underlying the notion of the learner as an active processor is "the assumption that there is no one set of generalised learning laws with each law applying to all domains". Decontextualised knowledge does not give us the skills to apply our understandings to authentic tasks because, as Duffy and Jonassen (1992) indicated, we are not working with the concept in the complex environment and experiencing the complex interrelationships in that environment that determine how and when the concept is used. One social constructivist notion is that of authentic or situated learning, where the student takes part in activities which are directly relevant to the application of learning and which take place within a culture similar to the applied setting. Cognitive apprenticeship has been proposed as an effective constructivist model of learning which attempts to "enculturate students into authentic practices through activity and social interaction in a way similar to that evident, and evidently successful, in craft apprenticeship".

The context in which the learning occurs as well as the social contexts that the learners bring to their learning environment are thus critical to the learning itself.

Assessment

Holt and Willard-Holt (2000) emphasize the concept of dynamic assessment, which is a way of assessing the true potential of learners that differs significantly from conventional tests. Here the essentially interactive nature of learning is extended to the process of assessment. Rather than viewing assessment as a process carried out by one person, such as an instructor, it is seen as a two-way process involving interaction between both instructor and learner. The role of the assessor becomes one of entering into dialogue with the persons being assessed to find out their current level of performance on any task and sharing with them possible ways in which that performance might be improved on a subsequent occasion. Thus, assessment and learning are seen as inextricably linked and not separate processes.

According to this viewpoint instructors should see assessment as a continuous and interactive process that measures the achievement of the learner, the quality of the learning experience and courseware. Assessment is also an integral part of the learning experience and not a loose-standing process (Gredler 1997). The feedback created by the assessment process serves as a direct foundation for further development. It should not be an intimidating process that causes anxiety in the learner, but rather a supportive process that encourages the learner to want to be evaluated in order for future, more focused development to take place.

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