Case study: Identifying the ‘trouble’ in a story

Read the excerpt below from a journal article and identify the ‘trouble’ in this story i.e. establish what the key issue is and the alternative viewpoints:

Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) identified a range of terms that have been used synonymously with constructivist learning, namely discovery learning, problem-based learning, inquiry learning and experiential learning. At the opposite extreme is direct instruction, also termed didactic teaching, which involves transmission of ‘facts’ or overt instruction (Macleod and Golby 2003). Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) call into question the effectiveness of a constructivist approach for facilitating learning, citing research which shows higher levels of attainment gained where learning takes place within the context of direct instruction as opposed to a constructivist context. They propose that this apparent failure of constructivist approaches is a consequence of limited or complete lack of guidance associated with this approach. Each example of constructivist practice studied in Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark’s review was based on the assumption that a constructivist approach is inextricably linked to minimal guidance or complete absence of guidance. Similarly Mayer (2004) reviews evidence that clearly points to the ineffectiveness of what he terms ‘pure discovery learning’, however he concludes that a constructivist approach is still a valid approach for facilitating learning when it incorporates elements of guided discovery or direct instruction.

(Patterson, 2011: 70)


The key issue here is that researchers are calling into question the effectiveness of a constructivist approach in facilitating learning. However Mayer (2004) proposes that if inquiry is combined with guidance or instruction then the process of learning through within a constructivist framework becomes effective. The research carried out in response to this issue explored students’ perceptions of the impact of a constructivist approach in supporting their learning in science in the context of undergraduate initial teacher education.