#mootustx10 Dr. Clark’s “Failure of Constructivism” Keynote recap


The social constructionist pedagogy approach to learning is one of the underpinnings of the design of Moodle from it’s inception, according to Moodle.org (http://docs.moodle.org/en/Philosophy).  Interestingly, the Moot keynote’s title was on the myth of success surrounding constructivism.  The keynote more focused on learning and how, when specifically altered/focused could lead to much higher outcomes.  Here are a few of Dr. Richard Clark’s notes on why:

  • 50% of students are wrong when asked to reflect on how much they learned
  • 30% of students like the instruction from which they learn the least
  • adjusting instruction for different learning styles does not increase learning (accommodation = fail)

Dr. Clark asserts that online learning is just as effective as classroom learning (contrary to popular belief), though if not done well it will lead to poor outcomes.  Furthermore, multimedia-based presentations and engagement can decrease student attentiveness and investment in learning.  The keynote went on to focus on the re-thinking of multi-tasking and mental capacity (and their limits which are less than previously estimated).

Tips for increasing effective online instruction:

  1. eliminate all visuals and sound
  2. continually highlight the most effective information
  3. redundancy (call and answer/read and discuss approach)
  4. text next to graphics
  5. let learners choose the pacing
  6. give learners clues about what they’re learning
  7. graphics and narration > text and animation
  8. narration and pictures not narration alone
  9. use a conversational style
  10. human voice is always better than mechanical narration
  11. ask learners to explain why (teaching content codifies understanding)

An additional theme of the keynote focused on giving control to students in learning processes.  Without value, he says, students will fail to persist or even start a learning endeavor.  Additionally, a student’s sense of confidence (and over confidence) can have a dramatic effect on their ability to learn.  Finally, a student’s emotional well-being has a strong correlation to their motivation and perceived ability to learn and succeed.  These three pieces together have a cumulative effect on providing students a sense of control over their education.

In conclusion Dr. Clark spoke of research that was using data to inform changes to practice.  His example was nurses providing infant care who were identified for having low infant mortality rates.  By examining the practices of the “experts” the research team discovered skills and practices that were not listed in any text book or taught in any courses.  Collecting, collating and disseminating that information has lead to fewer “islands of success” and is growing them into continents, if you will.  This process is an important aspect of educational innovation.

Perhaps the best line of the keynote was “Learning is a product of effort”.  Effort on both ends (teacher and student) only will provide effective outcomes.

Resources and researchers Dr. Clark talked about:

This post and others are brought to you with support from Wiris.com.

  • http://www.edrnet.com Jack Huntress

    Attended this speech. Truly seminal work. Dr Clark challenges some conventions and slaps us in the face with some of the misconceptions that we’ve had for years. Making us rethink much of what we’ve done.

    May his research make it into the hands of secondary and collegiate educators (and corporations). Sadly the technology is here but it is clearly being used in incorrect ways in many cases.

  • http://moodle.com Martin

    Hmm, it’s strange, but the title in the program was not what Richard Clark used on his slides, and totally not what his talk was about. Perhaps someone was just trying to be controversial in the program.

    Constructivism is basically the view that knowledge is actively constructed in the mind, based on prior knowledge. This view underpins and supports every single recommendation he made for instructional design and pedagogical strategy, so I can’t see how this view “failed”.

    His basic conclusion was that unguided learning is only for experts, and that other learners need good guidance – which I don’t think many people would disagree with. I think it’s a strawman to suggest that a constructivist view of learning necessarily means minimal guidance.

    Anyway, I thought it was a terrific summary of current educational research and the best talk I’ve seen in years! I was glad to find out about Richard Clark!

  • http://www.cytochromec.net/blog/ Colin Matheson

    Just to chime in with support for constructivism. I think some folks use constructivism to mean learner freedom, i.e. if knowledge is the product of the learner then the teacher better get out of the way. However, I like to think about it another way. Since ALL knowledge is a product of the learner (yes even rote memorization, multiplication table, drill and kill style knowledge) we need to think about what environments and activities best reinforce the ability for the learner’s brain to build this new information into their existing understanding of the world. Sometimes that environment is very structured and sometimes it is more open ended. Usually the goals/objectives are clear and there is ample time for the leaner to practice and actively use the knowledge. Also the environment should be low stress. Drill and kill focuses on practice because simple skills/ideas can be created as an automatic pathway with little need for lots of external connections. However other concepts need a lot more inter connections to make them stick and actually be useful to the leaner. Hence the need for application and discussion. Of course as a good teacher will tell you, don’t just set the students free to explore and expect high quality learning to take place. Learner centered doesn’t mean learners in charge, it just means always provide learning activities best suited for minds to grow. Don’t give up on lecture as a great way for people to learn, just give up on lecture as the only way people learn.

  • Mick Pope

    Any chance this will be pod/vod- casted?

  • http://www.saplinglearning.com Jon Harmon

    The only thing I can think of is that maybe the program-writers meant the title to imply more of a “How to make constructivism work” rather than “Why constructivism has failed.” I agree that the talk was definitely more about the former than the latter (and was EXCELLENT).

    Does anyone know if it’s online yet, and, if so, where? I know they said it WOULD be…

  • http://tomazlasic.net Tomaz Lasic

    Colin I agree with so many points you state that I will mention only the one I disagree with 😉

    No matter how structured, guided or otherwise by the teacher, learner is always in charge. ‘Knowledge’ only makes sense between our two ears ‘what we know’ – enter constructivism.

    I could not agree more that ‘go forth and discover’ (which constructivism is often blanket-tagged with) may not be appropriate in so many situations and much of Richard’s research (and of course anecdotals from the ground, right?) supports that. But (over)reliance on guided learning, expert view and generalisable solution that Richard seems to support in his work (not perhaps obvious from the brief points form his presentation here but from deeper reading of his work, lots of it healthily disputed too) is no panaceas and comes at a price, like ANY other edu-theory (!).

    Direct instruction (call it guidance) is often anti-social, anti-community, task-oriented, hierarchical. It is anti-tinkering (anti-moodling 😉 ) A known side-effect in class for example is that kids stop asking questions (incidentally, an antithesis of science and ‘ever questioning’), they settle for ‘just tell us the answer’ mentality.

    Moodle is built on social constructionIST principles (a very good ppt about important difference between *vism/*ionism here http://www.slideshare.net/pcoutas/social-constructionvism-samesame-lah-but-different ) and through hours of unguided tinkering with stuff by users, making it their own while (yes, true!) occasionally dipping into forums, Moodle Partners, YouTube & other places for ‘expert’ guidance. And that is what you and I and millions around the world absolutely love about it.

    I certainly welcome and look forward to reading more of Richard’s work (the GEL stuff seems really interesting) to perhaps formulate a better view of this. This is merely a lunchtime reply 😀

  • http://tomazlasic.net Tomaz Lasic

    Forgot: I would love to have been at the presentation, sounds really interesting. Joining the chorus of people asking for it to be somehow made public.

    Big thank you Moot organisers ! Regards from Perth

  • Andrea

    I think that is a really good point Tomaz, and thanks for the slideshare link. It is so important to remember the social aspect in our course design.

    And also within that social constructionist environment are people with more expertise (esp, but not only, the teacher), and their guidance and support can guide and mediate our learning to a higher degree (vygotsky’s ZPD stuff)
    I used to use a constructivist approach in my teaching- ie let people discuss in a discovery unguided manner, and it was basically a disaster- they often ended up with no outcome, no focus and no obvious learning.
    Also I think it is not enough to just say this is ‘social constructionism’ and then leave students to mill around in their course- we need to investigate the t concepts behind those theories and use them to guide the way we design and implement our courses.

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  • http://extendingextension.wordpress.com/ Jennifer J.

    Wow we all take away different things from presentations, don’t we? Which is why I am anxious to see the PPT and/or watch the recording. This recap lists the first Tip for increasing effective online instruction as: eliminate all visuals and sound. But I walked away hearing Dr Clark say not to over-use a single modality, because that confuses rather than reinforces. Rather than using music and narration (two audios), use images and narration (one visual, one audio). Rather than using text and images, use text and music background.

  • Joseph Thibault

    Agreed, to clarify, I believe that first tip was actually to eliminate the visuals and sounds as they are often added to Powerpoint. Extraneous animations and sound effects (as long has been pointed out in “death by ppt” talks) do nothing to reinforce the information on the slide.

  • http://www.elearningisland.ie/ Donal O’ Mahony

    Just a thought fot this thread – one of the major challenges in introducing Moodle in secondary schools in Ireland is that so many teachers have be “trained through lectures” and have little real experience in constructivist learning for themselves. Introducing teachers to Moodle requires them to engage as a learner for some time before they themselves introduce it to their own students.

    Teacher confidence in successsfully using Moodle is the basis of good practice in their teaching and learning.

  • Richard Smith

    It is necessary to emphasize that Dr. Clark was not discussing his opinions as to what works. He presented a summary of the numerous research studies of the effectiveness of various instructional methods commonly assumed to work. The bottom line was that the research indicated that adherence to constructivist methods as a means of improving student academic achievement does not provide the positive results claimed. It is interesting that constructivism has been accepted by educators, almost as Gospel, as the best method of instruction without serious evaluation as to its effectiveness. One can see from the posts in this discussion, the unwillingness of those attending the presentation to accept findings that that dispute the effectivenss of constructivism.

  • http://tomazlasic.net Tomaz Lasic

    Interesting thread, a quick ‘before bed’ expansion of my earlier reply.

    Constructivism (and constructionism) is NOT a method of teaching. It is a particular, well researched and supported theory of learning, in short translated as a belief that we ‘construct’ knowledge from our experiences.

    This informs our teaching, development of Moodle etc.

    People here (and R. Clark) pretty much agree on building knowledge but perhaps diverge on the ‘best way’ to build it.

    But is there one best way? Sometimes rote-learning/memorisation builds knowledge, sometimes guidance, sometimes free play works wonders (seen kids play, right?). These approaches, arguably all ‘build on experience’ but they differ and they should. It ALL depends on the context, how it is done and, most importantly, what is it that we want to students to ultimately become.

    Do we want our kids to become creative, independent problem solvers with high levels of self-efficacy or low-efficacy, spoonfeeding kids, addicted to there being an expert that knows best while their experiences and views are never counted since they are somehow un-worthy.

    I thoroughly support constructivist notion of building on our experience, even more the constructionist ‘doing for others’ but I am dead against championing ‘one best way’ to teach with this understanding and then call it ‘constructivist teaching’. Even more, I am dead against branding irresponsible, purposeless ‘free for all’ as constructivist. Teaching well with a strong belief in constr* theory is a VERY hard but VERY rewarding thing to do!

    Having said that, I always have and will remain healthily suspicious of ‘absolutes’ and seeing education as a science (more on that at http://tomazlasic.net/why-is-everyone-an-expert-on-education/ )

    Go Moodlers, regards to all. I would love to be at the Moot to chew this one in person.


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  • http://www.heavy-horse.co.uk Ian Wild

    From a cognitive point of view, I’m particulary taken by points 4, 7 and 8. My interest is in how visual cues can influence a learner to click on a particular link – or take a particular journey through an online course – without quite realising that they have been influenced to do so. As an educator constructing online courses I’ve always been aware I could do that inadvertantly. Rather than take up a big space on this page I’ve posted my thoughts here: http://iandavidwild.blogspot.com/2010/08/target-your-audience.html

    I’m very interested to know what others think of the notion of “unintended influence” on learner interaction in the context of Moodle course design.

  • Dean groom

    Eliminate all visuals and sound? Seriously. Is the Doctor accounting for the social games? The problem with research is the answer only appears if the question is asked. But, as this is a Moot, I imagine the research would exclude gaming and virtual worlds, which quite clearly suggests visual, sound and immerision – with others – helps them learn. i guess i need to know what better means first. Academias verison I imagine.

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  • Joseph Thibault

    He did say that, but I’m certain his comment was directed at extraneous sounds and visuals as they often are inserted into PPTs as transitions (sound efx and extra animations). I don’t think anyone would argue that those help learning outcomes.

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