By: Grayson H. Walker

As stated earlier, concept maps have their origins in constructivism. This section is design to provide some insight into the general principles of constructivism.

Constructivism is derived from the field of cognitive psychology. The constructivist paradigm is based on the work of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, Howard Gardner, and Nelson Goodman (Fosnot, 1996 ).

The main assumption of constructivism is that knowledge does not exist “out there” in an objective reality. Knowledge is actively constructed from within by the learner (Hendry & King, 1994 ). Facts become facts because it is knowledge that is agreed upon by communities of learners. The learner comes into any new situation with prior knowledge based on past experiences. New knowledge is learned through integration with prior knowledge.

Several educational principles have been derived from constructivism:

  • Concept development and deep understanding are the goals of instruction, not behaviors or skills (Fosnot ).
  • Learning is a constructive activity that students have to carry out. Students are active learners. The educator’s task is to provide students with opportunities to construct knowledge (Glaserfeld, 1996 ).
  • The teacher must provide meaningful, authentic activities to help students construct understanding relevant to solving problems ( Wilson, 1996 ).
  • Reflection of both content and the learning process is paramount.
  • Collaborative groups should be used so that students can test their understandings and expand understanding of particular issues ( Savery & Duffy, 1996 ).
  • Teachers need to “establish explicit linkages for students between new information taught in class and students’ past and future experiences…. Teachers summarize, review, and link main concepts at critical points throughout and at the conclusion of units and lessons” (Ennis, 1994, p. 167 ).
  • “Conceptual understanding is influenced by the prior knowledge brought by students to learning situations. This prior knowledge is … labeled as ‘preconceptions’, ‘naive theories’, ‘alternative frameworks’, or ‘misconceptions'” (Kinnear, 1994, p. 6 ).
  • Teachers must challenge the learner’s thinking (alternative frameworks, preconceptions).

Concept mapping fits well with the constructivist approach that learners “construct their own idiosyncratic understanding of concepts” ( Trowbridge and Wandersee, 1994, p. 460 ). The teacher can use a map as a basis for which to challenge student assumptions of how concepts are related. Russo, Scheurman, Harred, & Leubke (1995) maintain that most college faculty recognize that students will not remember specific facts from a course. What’s more important is that students take away major themes or concepts and an understanding of how these concepts are related. Using a concept map to design a course can aid the teacher in guiding the students to learn relevant concepts rather than trivial facts. Also, in knowing that students may perceive instruction differently from the way an educator intended, it can be helpful for the teacher to “construct a hypothetical model of the particular conceptual world of the students they are facing” (Glaserfeld, p. 7 ).

Source: The University of Tennessee