A media organization was rolling out a new software for content management. Many employees found it difficult and fiddly. With no professional training available, they designed a weeklong internal skills-building program. There was no real ‘teacher’. The HR manager, with no expertise in the area, acted as a facilitator. The rest was left up to them—all editors and writers got together to learn the software, and as some mastered it faster than others, they shared knowledge. At the end of the week, they’d collectively solved their problems, and not only learned how to use the new software, but also developed teamwork and communication skills in the process.

This is an example of social constructivist learning theory at work. Social constructivism is not a particular set of theories or strategies. Rather, it’s an approach that encourages us to make meaning in the world from our own point of view, based on our personal experiences. It has been used successfully with children in the classroom and with adults for self-development.


  1. Meaning Of Social Constructivism

  2. Features Of Social Constructivism

  3. Benefits Of The Social Constructivist Model

  4. Criticisms Of The Social Constructivist Model

Meaning Of Social Constructivism

Social constructivism explores the way we learn when no one is guiding us. This type of learning occurs because people want to construct their own knowledge and understanding. They’re motivated to learn when they have a need for it. Here are some features of social constructivism:


  • Personal, Not Generic

Social constructivists accept there are individual differences, and that our understanding of the world is shaped by our own experiences and by those of people like us. They also accept that our thinking is changed and redefined by new information.

  • Active, Not Passive

Among the first to develop a social constructivist approach was Jean Piaget (1896-1980), who used it to explore children’s ways of understanding the world. He realized children don’t just passively receive information, but actively construct their own understanding of the world from fragments provided by others. The reality they construct is in constant flux because each new piece of information alters how they see and understand the world. Piaget called this process assimilation and accommodation.

  • Interaction, Not Memorization

Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky used a social constructivist approach to study how children learn in the classroom. His approach emphasized the importance of interactions between children, teachers and books. Vygotsky believed humans learn through play and interaction with others, which is called social mediation.

The principles of social constructivism in learning apply not just to children, but adult learners too. In fact, adults can be highly motivated with self-learning, as they can choose to learn what interests them.

Features Of Social Constructivism

Now that we’ve looked at the dominant traits of a social constructivist approach, let’s examine some of the underlying beliefs of the theory:

  1. People Are Naturally Curious

Social constructivists believe people are naturally curious about the world and are willing to learn. This curiosity is the hallmark of all learning.

  1. Information Is Not Knowledge

It’s something we reconstruct through conversations with others. It changes as we talk about it. Our ideas change when we talk about them with different people or read different texts.

  1. Personal And Cultural

Social constructivist learning theory emphasizes personal meaning and values, as well as participating in and contributing to conversations with others. Context plays a major part in learning.

There’s an interplay between the individual and the social aspects in this theory—they each have a role to play for learning outcomes to be realized.

Benefits Of The Social Constructivist Model

The social constructivist learning theory helps educators tailor their classroom instructions to students’ levels of understanding, as well as their goals and needs. Some benefits that come along with this type of learning include:

  • It increases creativity, the ability to take more risks and the freedom to explore in different ways.

  • It encourages discovery through problem-solving and collaboration. Students can then put this new understanding into practice with different activities or assignments.

  • It prompts students to reflect on what they’ve learned. This can be done by asking questions about why something is important, or reflecting on the activities that help them learn a specific concept.

Many teaching environments can benefit by incorporating some tenets of social constructivist theory, even if they don’t shift to it entirely.

Criticisms Of The Social Constructivist Model

Although this approach has many benefits, it has its disadvantages too. Here are a few of them:

  • It may not work for all students. Depending on the group, some people may not be motivated enough to actively engage in the learning process.

  • It’s viewed by critics as being too idealistic. Students need guidance and direction, rather than being told that they can create their own meanings.

  • The role of the teacher in this model is limited. Social constructivist learning theory doesn’t allow for much direct teaching, which many believe is essential in education to ensure quality and content knowledge.

Criticism aside, with the growth of online education, the social constructivist model is coming into its own. Self-learning has become increasingly relevant with so many professions calling for continuous skill upgradation. Harappa’s Practicing Excellence course is a great way for adult learners to learn in a self-directed, self-motivated way. The course covers methods and frameworks that will help you improve your performance regardless of your industry. From focusing on what matters to work sprints that help block out distractions, tools to help you excel in the workplace can be yours today!

Explore topics such as Asynchronous And Synchronous LearningWhat Is A Habit, What Is The Pomodoro Technique & The Importance Of Time Management from Harappa Diaries to take charge of your personal and professional growth.

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