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Learning and Knowledge: Exploring Realist and Constructivist Perspectives

15 Nov 2022,2:37 PM



Realism is perhaps one of the oldest philosophical doctrines playing into the practicality of pedagogy and the instructional process. The realist perspective argues that the human mind gathers knowledge by instilling information to the mind—the realism context assumed that the human mind lacks inborn or innate knowledge at birth (Ibrahim et al., 2019). Naïve realism, a pioneering ideology to which the theories of positivism and empiricism are allied, argues that all the knowledge of the world derives from the senses—the learning mind captures an imprint of this knowledge but possesses no ordering role (Scott, 2002). Knowledge assimilation in naïve realism is personalized and is independent of the experiences of others.

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The constructivist view of knowledge and learning has gained decent traction in the field of education within the last several decades. Specifically, there has been a marked paradigmatic shift in the way researchers of human learning perceive the structure of the learning process (Saunders, 1992). Directions in constructivist research have gradually shifted from questioning external factors of learning—including instructor variables, approbation and eulogizing, expressional clarity, and personality traits—to exploring factors characterizing the learner’s mind, such as memory capacity, prior knowledge, the capacity to process information, attention span, motivation, naïve perceptions, and a learner’s cognitive faculties (Wittrock, 1985). The constructivist theory argues that purposeful learning and knowledge acquisition exist in a learner’s internal world motivated by their sensory interactions with the world. Such interactions mean that learning cannot be handed down from instructor to student; instead, the learner self-constructs knowledge articulated within three foundations—first, knowledge self-building occurs through the learner’s cognitive faculties and is not the result of a teacher-to-student knowledge transfer. Second, meaning formulation is psychological and, third, the learner’s cognitive faculty is unyielding to change (Qarareh, 2016). However, Saunders (1992) noted that while the reluctance to change is common, it can be offset by disequilibration.

The constructivist perspective has advanced in different directions in support of the notion that “knowledge is not out there.” Scholars like Messick (1989) sought to depart from the assumptions proposed by supporters of naıve realism—before the assent of constructivism into instructional discourse, realism informed a large part of educational assessment. Messick’s (1989) introduction of the constructivist-realist position intended to address the structural flaws of realism as a tool for understanding learning and knowledge. His duality argument was realist in the sense of its insistence on the externality of a student’s traits relative to the mind of the theorist, and constructivist because it made the assumption that constructs, such as general intelligence, critical reasoning, and motivation, are not directly interpretable but instead only visible through a student’s mental constructions (Shay, 2008).

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Another constructivist argument has situated the concept of knowing as a social, rather than individual, cognitive process (Shepard 2000). Constructivists commit keen emphasis on the “new educational assessment” model as a means to position knowledge construction as a communal act. Marking yet another deliberate yet informed shift from constructive realism towards social constructivism, the idea of learning and the assessment of student knowledge continues to evolve from being a non-social construct to a socially motivated concept that characterizes students as knowers and emphasizes trends in the process of knowing (Shepard 2000). Social constructivism seems to converge with social realism that latter of which seeks to derive an understanding of the social implications of knowledge generation and exchange while paying attention to how such a framework is structured within the confines of curriculum and pedagogy (Morgan et al., 2017). Both realist and constructivist arguments play into the role of education and instructional processes towards student acquisition of knowledge even though constructivism present a far-reaching argument in the direction of new assessment compared to realism which is more rudimentary.



Ibrahim, R., Aque, G., Nabua, E. 2019. Realism and Its Implication to Education.

Morgan, J., Hoadley, U. and Barrett, B., 2017. Introduction: social realist perspectives on knowledge, curriculum and equity. In Knowledge, Curriculum and Equity (pp. 1-16). Routledge.

Saunders, W.L., 1992. The constructivist perspective: Implications and teaching strategies for science. School Science and Mathematics92(3), pp.136-141.

Scott, D., 2002. Realism and educational research: New perspectives and possibilities. Routledge.

Shay, S., 2008. Beyond social constructivist perspectives on assessment: the centring of knowledge. Teaching in Higher Education13(5), pp.595-605.

Shepard, L.A., 2000. The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher29(7), pp.4-14.

Qarareh, A.O., 2016. The Effect of Using the Constructivist Learning Model in Teaching Science on the Achievement and Scientific Thinking of 8th Grade Students. International Education Studies9(7), pp.178-196.

Wittrock, M.C., 1985. Cognitive process in the learning and teaching of science. In Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

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