Skills Development Providers (SDPs) & Training Providers

Is an objectivist or constructivist approach to distance learning better?

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    Hannes Nel

     Education experts actually disagree about which approach to distance learning provides the best results. Rather than to influence you towards one and away from the other approach, I will try to provide an objective comparison and allow you to decide which approach you would rather use.

    The meaning of each approach should become clear as we discuss the differences. Therefore I am not going to use more valuable space by giving a definition here.

    An objectivist approach focuses on the real world and learning is based on the world as it is. This means that the environment and events in the world around us actually shape what we learn. Because of this, learning is strongly based on scientific facts and laws.

    In a constructivist approach the world is constructed in the mind of the student. This means that each individual student shapes the world as she or he perceives it. Knowledge and skills are developed by the student and applied to the environment.

    In an objectivist approach students compare symbols and models in learning content and learn from the similarities and parallels that they find between the symbols and models on the one hand and real events on the other.

    In an objectivist approach the meaning of the world exists independent of the human mind – it is external to the student. There is only one reality, which means that the truth as perceived by others is echoed.

    In a constructivist approach the student actually “creates” his or her own perception of the world. There are multiple realities and learning is achieved by allocating meaning to observations and perceptions.

    In an objectivist approach there is only one correct and true reality. Something is only true if it can be proven scientifically.

    In a constructivist approach there are many possible realities. Human thought is imaginative and develops out of perceptions, sensory experiences and social interaction. Perhaps I should mention here that one should differentiate between personal and social constructivism. Personal constructivism implies that knowledge is constructed in the mind of the student, whereas social constructivism implies that knowledge is constructed in communities through social interaction.

    In an objectivist approach learning means changed behaviour and change in the student’s understanding. Learning should, therefore, be designed to effectively transfer objective knowledge to the student’s mind.

    Linear learning, rigorous standards and following a time-schedule are important in an objectivist approach.

    Circular learning, flexible standards and self-paced learning are important is a constructivist approach.

    In an objectivist approach learning materials are mostly designed and developed in a linear manner. The content of learning materials is mostly generic in nature.

    In a constructivist approach learning materials are designed and developed in a circular manner. The content of learning materials are more contextualised.

    Prior knowledge and scientific laws are important in an objectivist approach.

    Prior knowledge, cognitive processing and self-reflection skills and learning processes are more important in a constructivist approach.

    An objectivist approach cultivates knowledge of facts.

    A constructivist approach cultivates thinking and knowledge of construction skills, i.e. creativity.

    In an objectivist approach the educator is an authority figure.

    In a constructivist approach the educator is a coach, mentor and partner in learning.

    In closing, and at the risk of giving away my opinion, I should perhaps mention here that the differentiations given in this article are not mutually exclusive (unless you favour an objectivist approach in your judgement). J  Lastly this article focuses on adult learning (andragogics). It is important to keep this in mind, because your conclusion might be different for teaching children (pedagogics).

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    karen deller

    hi Hannes, thought provoking for a Monday morning! We subscribe to the social Constructivism approach (particularly in our HET development). this, coupled with situated learning theory (and its links to WIL, etc.) help us define our curricula, materials development etc. Of course, it is not so easy to integrate with the predominately behaviourist structures of the NQF!

    Des Squire

    I would imaging that since we are dealing with adult learners there would be a need for a flexible approach depending on each individual group. Adult needs require both a constructive and objective approach and response from individuals will differ. The challenge will be place at the feet of the facilitator who must be able to deal with both.     

    Cas Olivier

    Hi Karen, you are 100% correct about the behaviouristic approach by NQF based unit standards and qualifications.

    It takes a paradigm shift to realise each learner has to construct his/her own curriculum.

    Hannes the roots of the objectivist approach are in behaviourism. I was Magger and Pipe who gave it the learning objective flavour. The objectives are set by the trainer and then plastered into the brain of the learner which reminds me of indoctrination. And subsequent: Ïf you, the learner, does not regurgitate the content back to me as I moulded in the learning objective, you fail’.

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