Constructivism is currently an influential view on learning. It advocates a student-centred perspective: Students are active learners who construct their own understanding (e.g., Slavin, 2006). Different types of constructivism can be distinguished (e.g., Phillips, 1995) that all acknowledge that the construction of knowledge is an active process. This active process can be described in terms of individual cognitive processes (i.e., cognitive constructivism), in terms of social processes (i.e., social constructivism), or in terms of sociocultural processes (i.e., constructionism; Phillips, 1997). Despite these differences, constructivist perspectives share a number of assumptions that should be considered in learning (e.g., Driscoll, 2005). First, knowledge acquisition is a process of knowledge construction in which prior knowledge comprises the frame of reference for the interpretation of new information (Cunningham, 1992). This assumption goes against the idea of knowledge acquisition as pure knowledge accumulation (Blumenfeld, 1992). Second, learning involves interactions with others such as fellow-students or teachers. Cooperative learning is therefore another assumption shared by constructivist views. Constructivists are, however, not unanimous with respect to the role of cooperation in knowledge acquisition, but acknowledge, in variable degree, that social negotiation is an important part of it (Greeno, Collins, & Resnick, 1996). Furthermore, knowledge construction benefits from metacognitive skills such as to plan, monitor, and evaluate one’s learning process. Learners who set their own learning goals, observe the progress they make in order to achieve these goals, make adjustments to their planning if! necessary, and reinforce themselves at appropriate times are labelled as effective self-regulated learners (e.g., Winne, 1995b). Self-regulated learning is considered a third key assumption in learning according to constructivist views (Slavin, 2006). Finally, constructivists stress the importance of learning that takes places in an authentic context, preferably similar to future professional contexts. To that end, ill-structured problems are often used, which serve as organizers for students’ learning (White & Frederiksen, 1998). These four assumptions of constructivist learning (i.e., knowledge construction, cooperative learning, self-regulated learning, and use of authentic tasks) constitute the building blocks for the studies reported in this thesis. The assumptions are studied from a student-perspective: How do students look at these assumptions? What are students’ conceptions of constructivist learning? Do they acknowledge knowledge construction, cooperative lear! ning, self-regulated learning, and the use of authentic tasks as impor tant factors for their learning processes? Two additional factors were examined in this thesis: Self-perceived inability to learn as a possible negative side-effect of open, constructive learning environments (e.g., Duke, Forbes, Hunter, & Prosser, 1998) and motivation to learn as a well-known influencing factor on students’ learning (e.g., Pintrich & Schunk, 1996). Based on the findings presented in the studies of this thesis, several conclusions can be put forward. A first conclusion is that we were able to develop an adequate instrument to measure students’ conceptions of constructivist assumptions in a reliable and valid way. Conceptual agreement about the questionnaire’s items was established and its factor structure disclosed cross-validation. Furthermore, in line with previous research on conceptions of learning, conceptions of constructivist learning maintain (indirect) relationships with academic achievement. More specifically, what students believe concerning knowledge construction predicts the learning activities they undertake and their self-perceived inability to learn and motivation can make predictions with respect to students’ study time. What students believe with respect to aspects of learning and constructivism in particular, plays a role, though indirect, in students’ regulation and processing strategies and learning outcomes. These results suggest that in order to improve academic achievement, changing study activities is not sufficient since these activities are to some extent dependent on students’ conceptions. In addition, findings indicate relationships between a number of conceptions of constructivist learning and regulation and processing strategies. In sum, the relative importance of st! udents’ conceptions of constructivism for their learning became apparent in these studies. Traditionally, the teacher, instructional methods, learning materials, and study activities are considered as the elements of change in order to achieve the necessary knowledge reconstruction to promote performance (Sinatra & Pintrich, 2003). Our study suggests that the learner can and has to act as a controller. Hence, students’ conceptions should receive more attention in education and specific instruction and training programs could help students in this respect (Lonka, Joram, & Bryson, 1996). Finally, it was demonstrated that the curriculum in which students are enrolled has effects on students’ conceptions. Starting first- year students come to university with pronounced conceptions of constructivist learning issues. Problem-based learning students already recognize the importance of several constructivist learning principles more than students in a conventional curriculum. Therefore, studies on the comparison of conventional and problem- based learning curricula should take these initial differences into consideration, because students’ conceptions of learning can influence other aspects of learning. Most studies comparing constructivist with conventional programs solely highlight differences that evolve due to the curriculum, while this study was able to show that with respect to conceptions, to some extent ‘different’ students enter different programs. Hence, conceptions of constructivist learning activities can act as an important moderator of problem-! based learning effects and should be considered in examining the effects of problem-based learning and probably in all comparative education research. In line with these findings, we found evidence for the influence of the learning environment on students’ conceptions of constructivist learning. While earlier studies demonstrated the effect by manipulating the learning environment (i.e., by implementing certain learning tasks that were labelled as constructivist, e.g., Tynjälä, 1997), the study presented in Chapter 6 demonstrated this effect in an actual learning environment. Furthermore, differences in conceptions due to a new learning program (i.e., higher education) happen in the first year. After this year, conceptions seem to consolidate. Therefore, training programs developed to alter students’ conceptions should be administered in the first year of higher education, since this seems to be the “critical period”.

Additional Metadata
Keywords authentic problems, conceptions, constructivism, cooperative learning, knowledge construction, problem-based learning, self-regulation
Promotor H.G. Schmidt (Henk)
Publisher Erasmus University Rotterdam
Sponsor Schmidt, Prof. Dr. H.G. (promotor)
ISBN 978-90-8559-275-4
Persistent URL
Loyens, S.M.M. (2007, March 23). Students’ Conceptions of Constructivist Learning. Erasmus University Rotterdam. Retrieved from