The selection, scope & sequencing of subject

Knowledge should be discovered as an integrated whole

Knowledge should not be divided into different subjects or compartments, but should be discovered as an integrated whole.

This also again underlines the importance of the context in which learning is presented. According to the above scholars knowledge should not be rigidly compartmentalised into different subjects or categories, but should be presented and discovered as an integrated whole. The reason for this being that the world, in which the learner needs to operate, does not approach one in the form of different subjects, but as a complex myriad of facts, problems, dimensions and perceptions.

Engaging and challenging the learner

Learners should constantly be challenged with tasks that refer to skills and knowledge just beyond their current level of mastery. This will capture their motivation and build on previous successes in order to enhance the confidence of the learner. This is in line with Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development which can be described 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).

Vygotsky (1978) further promulgated that instruction is good only when it proceeds ahead of development. Then it awakens and rouses to life an entire set of functions which are in the stage of maturing, which lie in the zone of proximal development. It is in this way that instruction plays an extremely important role in development.

In order to fully engage and challenge the learner, the task and the learning environment should reflect the complexity of the environment that the learner should be able to function in at the end of learning. Learners must not only have ownership of the learning or problem-solving process, but of the problem itself.

Where the sequencing of subject matter is concerned, it is the constructivist viewpoint that the foundations of any subject may be taught to anybody at any stage in some form. This means that instructors should first introduce the basic ideas that give life and form to any topic or subject area, and then revisit and build upon these repeatedly. This notion has been extensively used in curricula.

It is also important for instructors to realise that although a curriculum may be set down for them, it inevitably becomes shaped by them into something personal which reflects their own belief systems, their thoughts and feelings about both the content of their instruction and their learners. Thus, the learning experience becomes a shared enterprise. The emotions and life contexts of those involved in the learning process must therefore be considered as an integral part of learning. The goal of the learner is central in considering what is learned.

The structuredness of the learning process

It is important to achieve the right balance between the degree of structure and flexibility that is built into the learning process. Savery (1994) contends that the more structured the learning environment, the harder it is for the learners to construct meaning based on their conceptual understandings. A facilitator should structure the learning experience just enough to make sure that the students get clear guidance and parameters within which to achieve the learning objectives, yet the learning experience should be open and free enough to allow for the learners to discover, enjoy, interact and arrive at their own, socially verified version of truth.

Final remarks

A constructivist learning intervention is thus an intervention where contextualised activities (tasks) are used to provide learners with an opportunity to discover and collaboratively construct meaning as the intervention unfolds. Learners are respected as unique individuals, and instructors act as facilitators rather than as teachers.