Constructivism and active learning

In a new post at Faculty Focus, Maryellen Weimer calls attention to Joel Michael’s “Five Key Principles of Active Learning.” The first principle:

Learning involves the active construction of meaning by the learner. This well-established principle involves the fact that students link new information with information that they already know. New and old information are assembled into mental models. If the old information is faulty, that compromises the learning of new information. “Learning can be thought about as a process of conceptual change in which faulty or incomplete models are repaired.” (p. 161) Fixing faulty mental models can be very difficult, as witnessed by research documenting that even after taking a course (physics is often used as an example), students still hold serious misconceptions.

In other words, constructivism, with its attendant challenges, is a key presupposition of active learning. If students aren’t building or rebuilding new mental models, then they are not actively learning. This leads right into the second principle, that “Learning facts and learning to do something are two different processes.” This may account for the struggles many “good” students face early in college.

What steps do you take to help students replace old mental models to new ones? What obstacles have you encountered in attempting this?


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