Does Sweden’s ‘Failure By Constructivism’ Spell Trouble For Moodle?

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One of the Moodle’s foundational principles is social constructivism. It embodies the idea that knowledge is built collectively among peers, interactions being an irreplaceable part of an optimal pedagogical experience; and it suggests that hierarchical relationships take a back seat to the assurance that everyone takes part in the dialogue. Swedish humanities researchers argue and warn that there are key attributes that could be highly prized, if not mandatory in modern education systems, which are not an explicit part of social constructivism: Creativity, critical thinking, curiosity, perseverance. Thus, failure to give these attributes at least the same prominence as peer-based interactions, or community building, is detrimental to the learning process. As Magnus Henrekson and Johan Wennström argue, this is what is happening in Sweden right now. The country’s standings in international standardized test PISA and TIMSS shows a decline in some percentiles, in the past decade.

The authors claim, inaccurately, that social constructivism promotes a “subjective” basis for knowledge and reality. A better word is “collectively.” It is easy to see how in today’s environment both terms can seem synonymous. It explains the name of their essay, “’Post-Truth’ and the Decline of Swedish Education.” But in fact, it is possible to pursue truth collectively, as long as participants hold objective facts in the highest regard. Still, the alarm has been sounded: Nothing prevents Moodle or any LMS to spread disinformation. It is especially true in an open source system with no central moderation or control. Promoting social constructivism in the digital arena has the added risk of “network effects,” where ideas and attitudes are reinforced with ongoing interaction.

True social-constructivism has never been successfully implemented

To be sure, it is not correct to conclude a “decline in knowledge” from rankings such as PISA or TIMSS. It might be true that Sweden has become less educationally competitive in the global arena. But it is also known that some of the top ranked countries —China and Singapore— have a PISA-first approach. Henrekson and Wennström admit the grades of Swedish elementary school students have kept on improving since the 90s, except they attribute it to “rampant grade inflation” with little evidence behind the claim.

Previously in MoodleNews: How To Teach Math In Moodle The ‘Shanghai’ Way

In any case, the real question to pose to the Swedish system is what kind of interests their national education system is promoting, if not global competitiveness. It is interesting to see how societies recognized for their quality of life on other dimensions sit comfortably on a second tier of the PISA rankings, under Eastern countries. Given the levels of anxiety, absenteeism and cognitive drug prescription among the high-achieving student population, it’s hard to argue that increasing pressures to dispute the Singaporean’s crown would do them well in the endgame.

Fair warning for Moodle

It is also a fair warning for Moodle going forward. Critical thinking, evidence-based approaches, and even the recent and very welcome “Factfulness” —a proposed inner state of satisfaction caused from basing your views on objective evidence— seem to be prominent aspects of the general Moodle practice. But they are not explicitly listed as a core element in Moodle’s philosophy, at least not as social constructivism.


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