Paradigms Lost

Towards Integrating Objectivism and Constructivism

by

Johannes Cronje



SEE ITFORUM POLL #3 RELATED TO THIS PAPER

Abstract

This article proposes a model to integrate the traditionally conflicting objectivism and constructivist approaches to curriculum design.It is argued that these two are not opposing paradigms, but complementing approaches.A number of analyses of learning programs are discussed to show that learning events contain both objectivist and constructivist elements. Plotting the two approaches at right angles to one another produces four quadrants of conditions of learning. These four quadrants are discussed together with the rationales for each. Finally a challenge is issued to members of ITForum to identify learning events that are high in both instances.

Introduction

The traditional division of approaches to learning into objectivist/behaviourist and constructivist/cognitivist has led to a perception that the two are opposites, and can be plotted on a straight line. (c/f Reeves and Harmon 1994, 475-487). This would mean that any given learning experience would either be objectivist or constructivist, or anywhere between the two, but, essentially, as the one goes up, the other has to go down.
figure 1 – Objectivism opposite to Constructivism

Behaviourism

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Constructivism
The problem with this approach is that, while it may place learning that is low on both careful behaviourist stimulus-response methodology and well-scaffolded constructivism, it does not accommodate events that may be high on both.

If, however, these two approaches are seen as complementary rather than opposing, then they could be placed at right angles to one another.

figure 2 – Objectivism complementary to Constructivism 

Objectivism

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Constructivism
This integrative approach allows a learning event to be seen as both highly constructivist and highly behaviourist, without the one reducing the other.

Background

Objectivism and Constructivism are traditionally seen as opposites to each other and authors often speak of a ‘pendulum’ that swings from the one extreme to the other (Kilfoil and Van Der Walt 19__). Depending on their stance they may then either plead for support for one side or the other, or they may advocate taking a middle path.
Once the division has been made, it is often refined in a way similar to Reigeluth 1996.

 
Table 1 – Shift from an industrial age to an information age (Reigeluth, 1996)
INDUSTRIAL AGE
INFORMATION AGE
Standardisation
Customisation
Centralised control
Autonomy with accountability
Adversarial relationships
Co-operative relationships
Autocratic decision making
Shared decision making
Compliance
Initiative
Conformity
Diversity
One-way communications
Networking
Compartmentalism
Holism
Parts-oriented
Process-oriented
Teacher as “king”
Learner (customer) as “king”

As can be seen from Reigeluth’s (1996) table, the two opposites are often linked to time, and one is refereed to as the ‘old’ and the other the ‘new’ ‘paradigm’.

Reeves and Harmon (1994) make a similar divison.
 
Table 2 - Old and new pedagogical dimensions (extracted from Reeves and Harmon, 1994)
Category
Old
New
Epistemology
Objectivism
Constructivism
Pedagogical philosophy
Instructionist
Constructivist
Underlying philosophy
Behaviourist
Cognitivist
Instructional sequencing
Reductionist
Constructivist
Role of instructor
Authoritarian
Egalitarian
Value of errors
Errorless learning
Learning from experience
Motivation
Extrinsic
Intrinsic
Structure
High
Low
Learner control
Non existent
Unrestricted
User-activity
Mathemagenic
Generative
Accommodation of individual differences
Non-existent
Multi-faceted
Co-operative learning
Unsupported
Integral

This division also finds its way into the writing of government educational departments.
 
Table 3 Shift in government focus (South Africa, 1997a:29 ; 1997b:6-7)
Old
New
Passive learners
Active learners
Exam-driven
Learners are assessed on an on-going basis
Rote-learning
critical thinking, reasoning, reflection and action
Syllabus is content-based and broken down into subjects
An integration of knowledge; learning relevant and connected to real-life situations
Sees syllabus as rigid and non-negotiable
Learning programmes seen as guides that allow teachers to be innovative and creative in designing programmes
Emphasis on what the teacher hopes to achieve
Emphasis on outcomes – what learner becomes and understands
Behavioural approach to learning and assessment
Cognitive approach to learning and assessment
Assessment of isolated knowledge or discrete skills
Knowledge, abilities, thinking processes, metacognition and affect assessed.
Individual learning and products
Collaborative learning and products

The tension between the two approaches has led to frequent debate (Cook 1993:62-77; Phillips 1995:5-12;von Glasersfeld, 1996:19; Lebow, 1993, 4-15).

The problem

The problem with debate is that one side has to win.That means the other side has to lose. Educators fear that when one side is emphasized, it will lead to the eradication of the other. 
The same debate has been raging in the field of research theory. Burrel and Morgan (1979) point out that undue emphasis on the one or the other can lead to reduced effectiveness.

The question, therefore, is
 
How can objectivism and constructivism be integrated into a complementary whole?

The main sub-question to this would be 
 
Can it be shown that some learning events are high in both objectivist and constructivist characteristics?

If it can be shown, then it holds that the two cannot be opposites.

Towards integration

Burrel and Morgan (1979) divide the assumptions about the nature of social science into an ontological dimension that ranges from regulation to radical change, and an epistemological dimension ranging from subjective to objective. They then integrate the two dimensions into four quadrants as shown in figure 3.

 
figure 3 - Four paradigms for the analysis of social theory. (Burrell and Morgan 1979:22)
SOCIOLOGY OF RADICAL CHANGE

SUBJECTIVE

Radical humanist
Radical structuralist
OBJECTIVE
Interpretevist
Funtionalist
SOCIOLOGY OF REGULATION

If the same approach is applied to the objectivist/constructivist dichotomy, four quadrants emerge as shown in figure 4.

figure 4 – Four quadrants of teaching and learning

 

Objectivism

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Instruction
Integration
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Chaos
Construction
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Constructivism
Each of the four quadrants of learning has its own valid place in the field of teaching and learning, as will be seen in the following exposition.

Chaos

Chaos learning is low in objectivist elements.Learning is not determined by an outside entity, nor is it placed in any given, pre-determined sequence. Learning experiences are opportunistic.It is also low in constructivist elements. There is no clear evidence of support and cognitive scaffolding, nor is there a conscious effort to place learning in a real-world context.While it may seem, initially, that no proper learning could take place in this way, the truth is that most learning takes place in this way. A baby starting to talk chances on a sound that happens to get a certain result and upon repeating it, a consistency in response is discovered which reinforces the behaviour.Feedback is encouraging and the behaviour is reinforced. The child says whatever word it pleases, and is not consciously told that it should start with all words beginning with ‘a’. The learning environment needs not be supportive and encouraging, neither do scaffolds have to be provided.The little buzzing bug crawling on the child’s finger does not build on any previous knowledge when it stings it. The chaos quadrant, therefore, is the domain of serendipitous and incidental learning.It accounts for experience rather than studying or training and corresponds with what is traditionally written about ‘incidental learning’ and ‘immersion’ or ‘being thrown in at the deep end’.

Instruction

Instruction is high in instructivist elements and corresponds closely with what is traditionally written about behaviourism and instructivism. Instruction is high in pre-planned extrinsically determined learning practice.It is the domain of programmed learning, tutorials, lectures, and drill-and-practice. The principal outcome of instruction is ‘automaticity’ (Bloom 1986, 70-77). Its principal advantages are efficiency and focus. It is typically the domain of military instruction.

Construction

Construction is designed in such a way that learners construct their own meaning intrinsically by building on previous knowledge. Its principal outcome is individual understanding. Its principal advantages are effectiveness and transfer. It is typically the domain of teachers supporting the ‘new paradigm’ and corresponds closely with what is traditionally written about constructivism, constructionism, and cognitivism. 

Integration

Integration is the combination of instruction and construction in appropriate conditions. Essentially this would be the domain of the instructional designer.Learning in this quadrant would depend on a goal analysis to determine the essential learning outcome.On this would follow analyses to determine the skills and sub-skills required for the outcome to be reached.The designer would then select both behavioural/instructionist and constructivist/cognitive learning events to achieve the desired outcome. Likewise evaluation of learning would range from de-contextualised testing of rote learning through authentic testing to portfolio assessment – depending on the performance criteria specified during the goal analysis.

Theory into practice

In order to test the workability of the model a group of students reading towards the University of Pretoria’s Masters’ Degree in Computer-Assisted Education were given the task to design a spreadsheet that will measure the extent to which any given learning experience was designed according to objectivist or constructivist principles.The task would fall into the “construction” quadrant of figure 4, as students were pretty much “thrown into the deep end”.They had to find references to constructivism and objectivism. They then had to extract the principal characteristics of both, and finally they had to phrase these in the form of yes/no questions.Then they had to work out how to set up a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet complete with macros that would produce the required graph.
The second phase of the task was to evaluate two programmes using the spreadsheet.The first program was Statistics for the terrified and the other was Active stats. The two programs were selected since they both covered the statistics content required for the research methodology course that is a part of the Masters degree program. Statistics for the terrified follows a highly linear path through the learning material, while Active stats takes the form of a worksheet with which students can conduct their own experiments and draw conclusions from the results.

The resultant spreadsheets are worthy of comment. The spreadsheet that came closest to what I wanted is one created by Bettie Basson, and can be viewed at

http://hagar.up.ac.za/catts/learner/bettieb/98lro880/principles.xls

Her analyses of the two statistics programs looked like this
 
Table 4: Bettie’s Analysis of Active stats and Statistics for the terrified 
Active stats
Statistics for the terrified
Objectivist
3,8
7,7
Constructivist
6,2
3,1

This analysis places Statistics for the terrified in the quadrant of instruction and Active stats in the quadrant of instruction.

Leon, on the other hand placed Statistics for the terrified in the chaos quadrant, while pacing Active stats more squarely in the domain of the constructivists.


 
Table 5: Leon’s Analysis of Active stats and Statistics for the terrified 
Active stats
Statistics for the terrified
Objectivist
0,8
3,2
Constructivist
8,4
4,1

But it doesn’t quite work

If one looks at the above two tables and if one plots the results on a matrix, then it would seem that the answer to the main research question (How can objectivism and constructivism be integrated into a complementary whole?) is … maybe by means of a matrix.
The problem remains with the sub-question “Can it be shown that some learning events are high in both objectivist and constructivist characteristics?”.Here the answer seems to be, “not quite”.

Leon’s analysis showed one program, Statistics for the terrified being low on both counts.Both Leon’s and Bettie’s analyses showed Active stats to be high on constructivism and low on objectivism, but, none of the analyses, not even those by other students in the class, returned a result that was high on both axes.

Of course, this is because of two things:

  1. the choice of programs to evaluate. They simply are in opposite quadrants of the matrix, and
  2. the sample of evaluators. I reported on two, but there were only five in the class who did the evaluation.

A challenge to ITForum members

So then, I have to ask you to answer two questions
  1. Do you think it is feasible to plot objectivism and constructivism at right angles rather than at 180 degrees, and
  2. Can you think of a program or lesson or learning event that would score high on both.
If your answer is yes to both accounts, why not download Bettie’s spreadsheet.Run some programs through it, and let us have your results.

References

Bloom, B.S. (1986) Automaticity – the hands and feet of genius. Educational leadership 43(5), 70-77.
Burrell, G. and Morgan, G. (1979). Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis. London: Heinemann.

Cook, D.A. (1993) Behaviourism evolves. Eductional Technology 33(10), 62-77 

Lebow, D. (1993) Constructivist values for instructional systems design: Five principles toward a new mindset. Educational technology research and development 41(3). 4-16,

Phillips, D.C. (1995) The good, the bad, and the ugly: The many faces of constructivism. Educational researcher 24(7), 5-12.

Reeves, T.C. and Harmon, W. (1994) Systematic Evaluation Procedures for Interactive Multimedia for Educationa nd Training. In Reisman, S. (Ed.), Multimedia Computing: Preparing for the 21st Century. Harrisburg, PA: Ida Group.

South Africa, (1997a) Outcomes-based education in South Africa. Background information for educators. Pretoria: Department of Education.

South Africa (1997b) Curriculum 2005. Lifelong learning for the 21st Century. Pretoria: Department of Education.

Reigeluth, C.M. (1996)A new paradigm of ISD? Educational Technology, 36(3), 13-20. 

von Glasersfed, E. (1996) Footnotes to ‘the many faces of constructivism’. Educational researcher 25(6), 19.

Walkerdine, V. (1990) Schoolgirl Fictions, 2nd edn (London: Verso).


ITFORUM PAPER #48 - Paradigms lost – Towards integrating objectivism and constructivism by Johannes Cronje. Posted on ITFORUM December 3, 2000. The author retains all copyrights of this work. Used on ITFORUM by permission of the author.Visit the ITFORUM WWW Home Page at http://itforum.coe.uga.edu/home.html