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A well-accepted fact among educational psychologists is the idea that knowledge is not absorbed but rather constructed through a person’s experiences with his or her environment. This knowledge may be constructed individually or collaboratively. This lesson will briefly explain the processes behind knowledge construction and provide information on how socially constructed knowledge can advance the cognitive development of learners.


People construct knowledge and meanings from the stimuli in their environment, which leads to correct or, sometimes, incorrect meanings.’Class, we have been discussing weight and measurement. Can you tell me which weighs more, this one-pound bag of feathers or this one-pound bag of bricks? Okay. It seems we have some disagreement. Maybe we can work on these problems in groups.’As we follow this teacher through her lesson, we will be introduced to knowledge construction, social constructivism and the advantages of collaborative learning environments.


New knowledge is processed in three steps:

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  1. Construction
  2. Storage
  3. Retrieval

Construction is a mental (or internal) process in which a learner takes many separate pieces of knowledge and uses them to build an overall understanding or interpretation of a new concept. Storage is the mental process of putting new information into memory, and retrieval is the process of finding and using the information stored in memory.

Students constructing knowledge in groups is known as social constructivism.

Social Constructivism

Sometimes learners can make mistakes, referred to as reconstruction errors, which is when the construction of logical, but incorrect, memory occurs by using information retrieved from long-term memory plus one’s general knowledge and beliefs about the world.Some of the teacher’s students were making reconstruction errors. They had prior stored knowledge of bricks weighing more than feathers, so when asked ‘Which weighs more?’ they incorrectly assumed that it was the bag of bricks despite the fact that both actually weigh the same.

Individual and Social Constructivism

Typically, children learn individually. This is referred to as individual constructivism.

Individual constructivism is the theoretical perspective that focuses on how people, as individuals, construct meaning from the events around them.While individual learning is most common in the classroom, there are also benefits to learners constructing knowledge in groups. This perspective is referred to as social constructivism, which is the perspective that focuses on people’s collective efforts to impose meaning on the world.

This perspective also emphasizes the importance of culture and context in understanding what occurs in society and constructing knowledge-based individual ways of understanding.The guiding principles of social constructivism include:

  1. Knowledge is constructed through human activity, and reality is invented jointly by the members of that society.
  2. Individuals create meaning through their interactions with others and the environments they live in.

  3. Finally, learning is social and active, and meaningful learning only occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities.

Through these collective learning efforts, distributed cognition occurs. Distributed cognition is the process in which learners think about an issue or problem together, sharing ideas and working collaboratively to draw conclusions or develop solutions.

A teacher helping a student understand an event is using mediated learning.

Mediated Learning Experience

The perspectives we have discussed are similar to the concept of mediated learning experience. However, in mediated learning, it is the interaction between an adult or another more cognitively advanced individual that helps a child make sense of a phenomenon or event.

Benefits of Social Constructivism

In some situations, learners are better able to understand new concepts and ideas through social constructivism. By sharing ideas and perspectives, they are able to:

  • Clarify and organize their ideas well enough to explain and justify them to others.

  • Elaborate on what they have learned by drawing inferences, generating hypotheses and asking more questions.
  • Be exposed to students with differing views that may be more accurate than their own.
  • Discover flaws and inconsistencies in their own thinking.

Let’s check back in on the class to see how these concepts work.

‘I think that the bag of feathers is lighter, because if you hold one feather and hold one brick the brick is heavier.’ ‘No, both weigh the same because they are both one pound.’ ‘I know; let’s try an experiment of dropping both at the same time to see which hits the floor first.’So, as you could see in the classroom, each student clarified their ideas and explained their rationale; other students’ knowledge was constructed by this.

By pointing out that each bag weighed the same, flaws and inconsistencies were uncovered and the students formed a socially constructed concept.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, you were introduced to the process of knowledge construction. New knowledge is first constructed, then stored and finally retrieved. In most classrooms, knowledge is constructed individually. However, socially constructed knowledge has many advantages for the learners as well.

Social constructivism – guided by the basic assumptions that knowledge is constructed jointly, learning is social and active and meaning is created through interaction – allows a learner to be exposed to differing views, elaborating on their own views and drawing more accurate conclusions.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • List and define the three steps of processing knowledge
  • Compare and contrast individual constructivism and social constructivism
  • Define reconstruction error, distributed cognition and mediated learning experience
  • Paraphrase the benefits of social constructivism

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