How students learn


Constructivist learning theory emphasizes the learner's critical role in their own learning. 

Constructivism is founded on the premise that we 'construct' our own understanding by reflecting on our prior experiences. We generate our own 'rules' and 'mental models', which we use to make sense of our experiences.

Therefore, when we learn, what we are actually doing is adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.

There are several guiding principles of constructivism:

1. Learning is a search for meaning. The purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not just memorize the 'right' answers and regurgitate someone else’s meaning. Therefore, learning must start with the issues around which students are actively trying to construct meaning.
2. Meaning requires understanding the whole as well as understanding parts, and parts must be understood in the context of the whole. Therefore, the learning process must focus on primary concepts, not isolated facts.
3. In order to teach well, we must understand the mental models that students use to perceive the world, and the assumptions they make to support those models.
4. Since education is inherently interdisciplinary, the only valuable way to measure learning is to make the assessment part of the learning process, ensuring it provides students with information on the quality of their learning.

Adapted from

Interesting resources

Brandon, A & All, A 2010, 'Constructivism theory analysis and application to nursing programs', Nurse Education Perspectives, vol. 31(2), pp. 89-92.

Candela, L, Dalley, K & Benzel-Lindley, J 2006, 'A case for learning-centered curricula', Journal of Nursing Education, vol. 45(2), pp. 59-66.