Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

Why don’t I agree (entirely) with Brandsford?

Yeah, I know it takes a lot of nerve to disagree with some of the leading theorists in education, but there you go.  Brandsford, Brown and Cocking (2000) published a book, “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School,” that framed the constructivist philosophy, and led to a fundamental change in understanding.

From a strongly sociocultural perspective, constructivism builds upon the human need to make sense of the world, to understand and resolve uncertainty through action, and is based on a theory of learning as the reciprocal social and cultural construction of meaning and identity; that is, meaning-making within and through every one. Although constructivism is grounded in subjective knowledge and sense-making rather than objective transmission of information, the actual implementation of it has often had a strong cognitivist aspect, and you see that in “How People Learn”:

“To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must: (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organized knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000, p. 16).

The extent to which implementation of constructivism has the cognitive, individual aspects of learning foregrounded depends on whether the learning design is limited to “a small aura of socialness supporting input for individual acquisition and internalization of the cultural given” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 48), or is based on Lave and Wenger’s (1991) view of learning as a social practice, where “learning, thinking and knowing are relations among people in activity in, with and arising from the socially and culturally structured worlds” (p. 51).


Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


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This entry was posted on February 27, 2013 by in Constructivism, Learning Theory.
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