Constructivism Versus Direct Instructional Guidance

DeSchryver, M. & Spiro, R.J. (2009) Constructivism: When it’s the wrong idea and when it’s the only idea.

This article analyzes and evaluates the pertinence of two instructional approaches including constructivism and direct instructional guidance. Although these learning techniques are quite different, they each have major proponents in the field of education. This article compares and contrasts the impact that these approaches have on student achievement. The findings in this article can be applied to K -12 education, higher educational settings and to the training of adult learners. Constructivist approaches to education seek to facilitate learning by holding the learner highly accountable for their own learning through the use of questioning, experiments, and minimizing scaffolding and the sharing of expertise that direct instructional guidance provides. Constructivism does not follow a specific routine or framework for the facilitation of knowledge. However, direct instructional guidance is more organized and maximizes student achievement through the use of clearer, explicit teaching, specific scaffolding techniques and structure. Constructivism and direct instructional guidance are classified as well structured domains or ill structured domains in this article. According to DeSchryver and Spiro (2009), “The success of well structured domains (WSDs) cannot extend to ill structured domains (ISDs), in principle, because of the very nature of those domains.” (p. 106). This is due to the disconnect in the approaches. Constructivism is considered to be more of an ill structured domain and direct instructional guidance is considered to be a more of a well structured domain. This article concludes that direct instructional guidance techniques that incorporate a thorough explanation of skills should be incorporated into learning to maximize learner achievement.

This article provides an excellent analysis and evaluation regarding the pros and cons of constructivism and direct instructional guidance. The use of ill structured domains and well structured domains to classify these approaches assist in evaluating the effectiveness of each approach. This information is crucial to educators in K-12 settings because most students lack the background knowledge to effectively master skills in a constructivist educational setting that does not use additional learning approaches. Also, many fields that require precision and mastery of skills such as healthcare cannot rely fully on a constructivist approach to learning. They must receive explicit direct instruction that will allow them to perform their jobs precisely, correctly and within compliance. A combination of both approaches may fit various educational settings. Therefore, educators must use their expertise and common sense to apply the delicate and effective balance of these approaches as they facilitate knowledge. The findings in this article are pertinent to the advancement of education and should be used to determine the best instructional practices that will meet the needs of students.

My experience as an educator includes ten years as an elementary educator and an instructional leader, corporate instructional design and corporate training. Therefore, I have been able to apply my knowledge as an educator in various educational arenas. The effectiveness of the constructivist approach and the direct instructional approach both stood out to me as I reflected on my years as an elementary educator. Based on my reflections, it is apparent that direct instructional guidance is pertinent to the mastery of skills for elementary students. They require explicit scaffolding of instruction that will lead to a foundation of success. Scaffolding is a tool that can be used to incorporate a constructivist approach that will assist with integrating the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I believe that learning should primarily include a direct instructional approach, which will help students to master concrete concepts. After concrete concepts have been mastered, constructivism can facilitate higher levels of abstract learning, synthesis and evaluation.