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E-learning Curve Blog is Michael Hanley's elearning blog about skills, knowledge, and organizational development using web-based training and technology in education

Entries Tagged as 'principles of constructivism'

Constructivism Pt.13: More Organizational Learning

January 17, 2008 by Michael Hanley · Comments Off · Argyris, learning theory, non-formal learning, organizational learning, principles of constructivism, Schon, situated cognition

It could be argued that components of Argyris’s and Schön’s position do not conform to the constructionist tradition, and it is possible to discern a positivist aspect to their thesis, particularly in the exposition of their notion of theory-in-use, which in my opinion exhibits characteristics of behaviourist patterns – for example B.F. Skinner’s ideas on operant conditioning in the strategies employed in single-loop learning. Similarly, it has been argued elsewhere (Easterby-Smith & Araujo, 1999) that Argyris’s and Schön’s work on Model I and Model II organisations relies too heavily on assumptions of what “good learning” (p.13) consists of, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this paper. Nonetheless, as Finger and Asún point out in Adult Education at the Crossroads. Learning our way out:

Unlike …Kolb’s learning cycle, where one had, so to speak, to make a mistake and reflect upon it – that is, learn by trial and error – it is now possible thanks to Argyris and Schön’s conceptualization, to learn by simply reflecting critically upon the theory-in-action. In other words, it is no longer necessary to go through the entire learning circle in order to develop the theory further. It is sufficient to readjust the theory through double-loop learning.



Argyris, C. and Schön, D. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Asún, M. and Finger, M. (2000) Adult Education at the Crossroads. Learning our way out, London: Zed Books.

Easterby-Smith, M. & Araujo, L. (1999) Current debates and opportunities. IN: Easterby-Smith, M. Araujo, L. & Burgoyne, J. (eds.) Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization: Developments in Theory and Practice, London: Sage

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Constructivism Pt.12: Organizational Learning cont’d

January 16, 2008 by Michael Hanley · Comments Off · Argyris, learning theory, non-formal learning, organizational learning, principles of constructivism, Schon, situated cognition

In Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective, Chris Argyris and Donald Schön suggest that each member of an organisation constructs their own representation of the actual, tacit, applied organisational behaviours, also called its “theory-in-use” (1978, p.16). Argyris and Schön modelled theory-in-use to investigate its three components:

Table 1 Components of theory-in-use (after Liane Anderson, 1997)



Governing variables:

Those dimensions that people are trying to keep within acceptable limits. Any action is likely to impact upon a number of such variables – thus any situation can trigger a trade-off among governing variables.

Action strategies:

The moves and plans used by people to keep their governing values within the acceptable range.


What occurs as a result of an action. These can be both intended – those actor believe will result – and unintended. In addition those consequences can be for the self, and/or for others.

They developed a simple three-phase model (see Figure 1) to illustrate how each of the components of theory-in-use interacts:

Figure 1 Model explaining the process of developing theories-in-use

This cognitive structure has implications for knowledge workers’ cognitive processes. Where the outcomes of the strategy align with what the individual wanted, then the theory-in-use is confirmed as there is a match between intention and outcome. However, a mismatch between intention and outcome may occur with unintended consequences. Outcomes may also not match, or even counter the person’s governing values. Argyris and Schön suggest two responses to this mismatch, and these are can be seen in the notion of single and double-loop learning. For Argyris and Schön (1978, p.2) learning involves the detection and correction of error. In single-loop learning (see Figure 2), when outcomes do not match expectation the initial reaction of knowledge workers is to employ a different strategy from their repertoire that will bring about the required consequences within the governing variable. The change is in the action only, not in the governing variable itself.

Figure 2 Single- and double-loop learning


Anderson, L. (1994). Espoused theories and theories-in-use: Bridging the gap (Breaking through defensive routines with organisation development consultants). Unpublished Master of Organisational Psychology thesis, University of Qld.

Argyris, C. and Schön, D. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Constructivism Pt.3: The principles of constructivism

December 28, 2007 by Michael Hanley · 4 Comments · Bruner, conditions of learning, Constructivism, learning styles, learning theory, principles of constructivism

Bruner’s 1966 text Toward a Theory of Instruction described the key principles of constructivism (p.225):

Table 1 Principles of constructivism




Instruction must be concerned with the experiences and contexts that make the student willing and able to learn

Spiral organisation


The content must be structured so that it can be grasped by the learner.


Material must be presented in the most effective sequences.


“Going beyond the information given” – Instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation and or fill in the gaps

Extending from these basic constructivist principles as well as from the work of other key figures in the constructivist school, Driscoll (1994) outlines five conditions for learning (p.382-3). Very much like the multiple approaches and interpretations that exist in constructivism, a number of conditions must be met for the approach to be implemented. It is useful to elaborate briefly on these conditions, as they are relevant to the learning approach discussed in the rest of this part of the blog.

  1. Providing complex learning environments that incorporate authentic activity. Constructivists argue that learners should learn to solve the types of complex problem they will face in real life. Learning how to do this is difficult unless complex and authentic learning environments are available to the learners.
  2. Providing for social negotiation as an integral part of learning. Bruner (1986) explains that learning is a cultural interchange between group members. Collaboration creates an opportunity for learners to share their understandings with others and to have others do the same with them. This provides multiple perspectives to each learner, and this negotiation process between peers should lead to enhanced understanding.
  3. Support multiple perspectives and the use of multiple modes of representation. Because learning skills, behaviours and knowledge can be diverse and complex, constructivists believe that to achieve complete understanding the learner must examine the material from multiple perspectives. If they are not supported in this endeavour, the learner will achieve only a partial understanding of the material. Multiple modes of representation allow the learner to view the same content through different sensory modes.
  4. Nurture reflexivity. Duffy and Cunningham (1996) characterise reflexivity as “the ability of students to be aware of their own role in the knowledge construction process.” (p.172). It could also be described as the learner taking ownership of their own thinking and learning processes. Driscoll (1994) assets that reflexivity and by extension critical thinking are central attributes in the constructivist methodology, as it enables learners to understand how and why cognition creates meaning. This enables learners to attain goals such as reasoning, understanding multiple perspectives, and expressing and defending their own beliefs.
  5. The last condition Driscoll describes is to “emphasise student-centred instruction.” Bruner (1966) calls this “discovery learning”. By obtaining knowledge by themselves, learners select and transform information, construct knowledge, and make decisions in the context of a cognitive structure that provides meaning and organisation to experiences and allows the individual to “go beyond the information given”. Students are actively engaged in determining what and how they will study or gain understanding.

These principles and conditions position the constructivist approach to learning as an appropriate orientation for learning sans frontiers; using technologies like the Internet, websites and virtual learning environments, applying collaborative learning, problem-based learning and goal-based mechanisms, making Open Source Software and Course- and Content Management Systems accessible to learners, and using e-learning applications like online conferencing and collaboration tools could be the foundation for these multiple constructivist conditions for learning. (Duffy & Jonassen 1992, Driscoll 1994; Schank 1994)

These characteristics provide an appropriate framework for knowledge workers to learn (and for the learning intervention), given that their ongoing development is based in the context of already-established cognitive schemata (from the learners’ perspective), the knowledge and skills are applied to solve real-world problems, and their expertise (behaviours) are typically used in collaboration with their peers to enhance the performance of organisations.


Bruner, J. S. (1966) Toward a Theory of Instruction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bruner, J. S. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Driscoll, M. P. (1994). Psychology of learning for instruction. Boston, MA. Allyn & Bacon.

Duffy, T. M. & Cunningham, D. J. (1996) Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction. IN: Jonassen D. H. (Ed) Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology (pp.170- 198). New York: Simon & Shuster Macmillan.

Schank, R. (1994) Active Learning Through Multimedia, IEEE Multimedia, 1(1), pp.69-78.

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