1.3 Papert's Constructionism Theory

“From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product.”

— Seymour Papert1

Informed by both Piaget and Vygotsky, Seymour Papert (1928-2016), a founding faculty member of the MIT Media Lab, developed the concept of constructionism. Based on Piaget’s constructivism, constructionism emphasizes the agency of young people as active participants in the construction of their own learning. Papert developed one of the first educational programming languages, known as LOGO, which inspired the popular programming language Scratch. Papert’s work also led to the Computer Clubhouse project, a network of over 100 learning centers where youth from underserved communities learn to create and express themselves using emerging technologies.

Key Concepts from Papert's Constructionism Theory

Excerpt from LIS 516: Youth Development and Behavior in a Digital Age by Dr. Katie Davis and the University of Washington

1:25

Dr. Katie Davis, University of Washington

Real-World Learning
Learning happens through the construction of something within a real-world setting.Staff at a small rural Western library created temporary makerspaces by partnering with a local business that provided a 3D printer. Their partners demonstrated designing for the 3D printer and helped participants learn the basics.

Why constructionism?

This video is part of the Educational Technology course offered by Georgia Tech through Udacity.

3:31

Georgia Tech

Putting constructionism into practice

“It’s your job to experiment, it’s your job to problem solve, your job to critically think. I’m here to guide you.”

— Youth Services Specialist at a rural western library

Production-centered learning that is based on learners’ own interests are two principles of connected learning that were directly inspired by constructionism. Constructionist learning experiences can involve:

  • Learning that is characterized as learner-centered, active, hands-on, or project-based2
  • Facilitators who guide learners but allow them to make decisions about the direction of their project
  • “Tools that can promote the making of objects” like robotics kits, 3D printers, or even a simple craft set3
  • Self-directed learning that allows youth to experiment with tools and relate them to their own personal interests4
  • Technologies that provide flexibility and openness,5 like Lego Mindstorms, which allow learners to build and program a robot themselves (Lego Mindstorms were inspired by and named after Papert’s book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas)

REFLECTION: CONSTRUCTIONISM

Think about a library program you know about that involves constructing or creating something. What knowledge is the program helping learners to create? 


TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE

Which of the following would best describe a constructionist approach to learning:

  1. Group discussions
  2. Skill and drill practice
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Learners taking creative control

1: Sabelli, N. (2008). Constructionism: A New Opportunity for Elementary Science Education. DRL Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings, pp. 193–206.

2: Logo and Learning. MIT, 2015.

3: Learning, Making, and Powerful Ideas, by S. Wheeeler, 2014.

4: Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991). Situating constructionism. Constructionism, 36(2), 1-11.

5: Papert, Seymour. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. Basic Books, Inc.