Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.2, 179-184
Published Online April 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 179
Use of Constructivist Approach in Higher Education:
An Instructors’ Observation
Irshad Hussain
Department of Ed uc a t i o n , The Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Bahawalpur, Pakistan
Received February 6th, 2012; revised March 11th, 2012; accepted March 21st, 2012
The study aimed at exploring the significance of constructivist approach at higher education level. It also
examined its effects on social learning of students. The researcher adopted observational method of de-
scriptive research. The participants of the study consisted of students of Master of Arts in Education (M.
A. Education) of the Islamia University of Bahawalpur. The researcher taught a course titled, “Qualitative
research methods” for three years to three (different M. A. Education) classes. The researcher used con-
structivist approach and designed activities to involve students in the process of learning. The activities
were offered to homogeneous (male-male and female-female) as well as heterogeneous (male-female)
groups of students. On the basis of observation, the researcher concluded that students enjoyed working
on collaborative and cooperative projects and tasks. They were keen on constructing knowledge by in-
volving themselves in activities and showing their readiness to embrace constructivist approach. Con-
structivist approach played a significant role in the process of learning to constructing knowledge. Simi-
larly, collaborative and cooperative work developed contribution spirit among students overcoming their
shyness and introversion. They became independent and capable of taking initiatives in conducting re-
search projects. They also learnt ethics, social skills and etiquettes in groups. However, some culture re-
lated problems like working of female students with their counterparts and shyness of rural students were
Keywords: Constructivism; Knowledge Construction; Higher Education; Social Constructivism; Learning
Activities; Productive Knowledge; Social Interactions
Higher Education: A Level of Knowledge
Higher education is considered to be the apex in all educa-
tional endeavors. It is imparted by universities and other insti-
tutions of higher education & research. It embraces teaching
and learning for the promotion of scholarship faculties and
research attitude among students. It mainly focuses on know-
ledge creation and its dissemination. Apparently, teaching,
learning and research are considered to be the core activities in
higher education. Besides, there are some associated activities
which seem to augment the outcomes and effectiveness of
higher education. Such activities include instruction and in-
structional mechanism, learning activities, campus environment
and infrastructure, innovations and interventions etc. (Hussain
& Reza, 2010).
According to Hussain & Sultan (2010) university [higher]
education aims at developing skills and competencies among
students to live and work in 21st century. Therefore, a un ive rsity
teacher should involve students in learning process through
activities aiming to inculcate academic & social skills among
them. They would become capable of interpreting their knowl-
edge according to situation(s) by making their own meaning of
it. It would be broadening their vision and wisdom leading
towards developing new knowledge.
Constructivism: Construction of Knowle dg e
The theory which emphasizes on providing opportunities to
students for making their own judgments and interpretations of
the situations (they come across) based on their prior knowl-
edge and experience is called “constructivism”. It is based on
active involvement or participation of students in teaching
learning process. It aims at developing skills among students by
offering to them activities and projects in their relevant disci-
plines and contexts. It appears as an appropriate strategy pre-
paring them for assuming social roles and professional respon-
sibilities successfully in their practical lives ahead. According
to Sobat (2003) construction of new knowledge is based on
prior experiences of students by enhancing their rationality &
reasoning ability and applying in real situations.
Ismat (1998) stated that Piaget emphasized on individual
constructivism associated with cognitive development and Vy-
gotsky advocated for social constructivism. The former aimed
at modifying beliefs and ideas of students by offering them
appropriate tasks for knowledge construction; whereas, the later
controlled to change their behaviors and cognition in social
settings (Wang, 2003; Dhindsa & Emran, 2006). Consequently,
it contributes to social structuring of human cognition leading
towards co-construction of knowledge (Simpson, 2002) through
social interactions.
Hussain (1999) described learning as a social process taking
place in and outside the classroom. Classrooms are social enti-
ties where students interact with each other and their instructors
(s) for learning to knowledge construction. There seems a con-
sensus among different constructivists (like Dewey, 1916; Vy-
gotsky, 1978; Bruner, 1996) that learners construct [their own]
knowledge through social interactions with each other. In high er
education, students are adults and they have prior knowledge
and experience of life. They know the way to interact and live
with others. They are believed to having the passion for group
dynamics. Therefore, the assertion of Petraglia (1998) that in-
structors should develop learning materials and learning envi-
ronment corresponding to the real world and/or situation of
learners to interact accordingly seems appropriate for higher
education classrooms. Hence, it necessitates the involvement of
learners through activities for skill development and participa-
tion in life.
Constructivism for University Students: Preparing
Them to Participate in Life
University students are assumed to be self-directed in their
studies and activities provide them opportunities of hands-on
practices for learning and interpreting it. They develop their
own understanding of learning, its meaning according to the
context, and the ways to acquiring it (Gibbs, 1992). They come
with diverse potential, experience and mindset.
Therefore, Merriam (2001) viewed learners doing more than
cognitive machines for processing information. They have their
own mindset, memories, conscious and subconscious worlds,
emotions, imagination and physical body which need to interact
with new learning and learning contexts. Such learning contexts
are social entities compelling the educationists to adopt con-
structivist approach at higher education level. The use of con-
structivism particularly, social constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978)
develops confidence, respect for others, etiquettes and social
skills among learners. They can interact with each other and
exchange their pleasures and pains without hesitation. It may
give them comfort and peace of mind for working more pro-
foundly and earnestly.
Review of Related Literature
Knowledge Construction through Constructivist
Constructivist approach corresponds to learning by doing
assuming that the more repeatedly one does something, the
more efficient s/he become at it. It consists on different forms
and activities including cooperative learning, experiential learn-
ing, problem-based learning and inquiry learning (Hussain &
Sultan, 2010). However, it is based on active involvement of
learners and their interactions for creation of new knowledge.
Critical thinking, problem solving approach and analytical
skills are assumed to be the essential constructs of higher edu-
cation graduates. Equipped with such faculties and skills they
construct new knowledge based on their previous experiences
and involvement in learning process (Li, 2001). Similarly,
Dhindsa, & Emran, (2006) asserted that “knowledge is con-
structed through observation, reflection and interaction with the
surrounding environment such as their peers, teachers or tech-
nology”. It is based on strategies of effective learning and leads
them to construct new knowledge by interpreting it in a par-
ticular situation. In a constructivist classroom the teacher be-
comes facilitator (Alesandrini & Larson 2002; Ornstein & Hun-
kins, 1998) to help students in acquiring knowledge through
Students’ involvement results in their effective learning.
Johnson and Johnson (1999) stated that effective learning takes
place through one’s personal involvement in learning experi-
ence. It requires them to work in groups and interact in social
settings based on the principle of Vygotsky’s social construc-
tivism. Vygotsky (1994) believed in social constructivism and
asserted that social interaction among learners spurred the con-
struction of new ideas and enhanced their intellectual develop-
ment. Nonetheless to say that intellectual development and
creation of ideas is associated with Bruners’ (1960) pedagogies.
Bruners’ pedagogies included activity-based and hands-on in-
struction in which students were expected to use their own di-
rect experiences and observations to acquire information and to
solve problems scientifically.
Role of Teacher in Constructivism: Teacher as an
Academic Leader and Facilitator
A teacher is considered to be the academic leader and facili-
tator of students. S/he recognizes their potential and helps them
in right direction at right time. A constructivist approach is
oriented on construction of knowledge putting students in prac-
tical situations under the guidance and tutelage of teachers. It
seems to be based on the belief that learners construct their own
knowledge through interaction, and the assumption that “know-
ledge is physically constructed by learners who are involved
[actively in learning process]” (Gagnon & Colley, 2001: p. 1)
appears to be substantiating it. Knowledge is constructed in
social environments where interaction is considered to be a
fundamental factor for effective teaching learning process
(Sims, Dobbs, & Hand, 2001). Under such circumstances the
role of a teacher cannot be neglected rather it becomes more
significant in terms of coaching students to selecting appropri-
ate activities for learning.
Traditionally, a teacher has been playing an active role in
transferring knowledge to passive students. In new settings the
stage is set for students to play an active role in learning proc-
ess through activities. They feel pleasure and confidence in
becoming active participant. The study of Lord, Travis, Magill
& King (2005) revealed greater effects of constructivist learn-
ing (learner-centered) approach on weekly test scores of stu-
dents as compared to students’ scores in traditional or teacher-
centered environment. The study further elaborated that con-
structivist learning helped them in enhancing their participation,
level of satisfaction, enthusiasm for raising a question or re-
sponding to it, and an inclination towards scientific attitude.
Constructivism makes teachers design activities and projects to
be offered to the students. These may consist on service-learn-
ing and community-based projects and activities to involve
Effects of Construct i v i s m on Learnin g
Use of constructivist approach in education has direct effects
on students learning. They are active stake holders in the proc-
ess of knowledge construction and its dissemination. They par-
ticipate in teaching learning process and assume responsibility
of their learning by giving it their own meaning in their respec-
tive contexts. Constructivism offers students opportunities of
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
cooperative and collaborative learning.
A study was conducted by Santmire, Giraud, & Grosskopf
(1999) and compared learning achievement of two groups of
elementary school students. The researchers found that the
students who learned through social-constructivist approach to
education and took a standardized test secured higher grades
than their counterparts who were instructed traditionally in the
classroom. The students’ participation in such projects en-
hanced their academic performance as well.
Constructivism involves students and they participate ac-
tively in teaching learning process through different activities.
Pratton & Hales (1986) studied the influence of such participa-
tion of students on their learning achievement. The study found
that the mean achievement of the students who participated
actively in teaching learning process was greater than their
counterparts who attended traditional classes. The study further
explained that the students spent more time in doing activities
that required thinking, responding and verifying their knowl-
edge. Therefore, active participation of students (constructivism)
was affirmed to be an efficient instructional approach for creat-
ing & sustaining motivation and passion for knowledge con-
Rationale of the Study
Hussain & Mahmood (2010) stated that quality of education
is directly linked with quality of instruction. Quality of instruc-
tion is associated with expertise and experience of teacher. An
expert teacher adopts innovative instructional approaches. If
such approaches are used at higher education level the students
would become capable of developing new knowledge instead of
mere getting information. Constructivist approach is one of
them which aims at involving students in the process of learn-
ing. The researcher used it at higher education level and found
encouraging results to be disseminated through this paper. This
paper is an account of researchers’ observation and reflects
significance of using constructivist approach in higher educa-
tion. This observational account of the researcher is given in the
coming section of the paper.
Objectives of the Study
The main objectives of the study were:
To evaluate readiness of university students towards con-
structivist approach.
To study the significance of constructivist approach in
higher education.
To examine the effects of constructivist approach on social
learning of university students.
Procedure of the Study
The study aimed at exploring the significance of constructiv-
ist approach at higher education level. It also examined its ef-
fects on social learning of students. The researcher adopted
survey approach of descriptive research through observation.
The participants of the study consisted on students of Master of
Arts in Education (M. A. Education) of the Islamia University
of Bahawalpur.
Context of the Study
This study explains researchers’ reflection on the use of con-
structivist approach at higher education level. The researcher
taught a course on “qualitative research methods” by applying
constructivist pedagogy. He taught it for three years to three
different M. A. Education (4th semester) classes at the Islamia
University of Bahawalpur. The researcher designed activities
on the principle of constructivist pedagogy and involved stu-
dents in learning process. These activities were skill oriented
and were offered to them in homogeneous (male-male and fe-
male-female) as well as heterogeneous (male-female) groups.
The researcher observed and took notes of their readiness to
participate in class activities, inclination towards group work;
group dynamics and seriousness to cooperating and coordinat-
ing with each other for knowledge construction.
Participants of the Study
The total average number of participants of the study con-
sisted on 32 M. A. Education (4th semester) students of which
eight (25%) were males and 24 (75%) were females. The re-
searcher divided the participants into homogeneous as well as
heterogeneous groups of 4 - 6 students each. Each group was
similar in its physical characteristics and existed to work for a
semester. The researcher noted his observation to know the
significance of constructivist pedagogy at the end of each se-
mester. However, he also recorded entry behavior of the par-
ticipants at the beginning and terminal behavior at the end the
semester and judged social competencies.
Description of the Course
The course, “Qualitative research methods” is a three credit-
hour course offered in 4th semester to the students of Master of
Arts in Education. It is first course of its nature at masters’ level
and requires learners having some basic concepts of educational
research as pre-requisite. It aims at equipping learners with
knowledge of basic concepts and skills of qualitative research
methods in education for making them capable of doing inde-
pendent research projects, compiling, and disseminating their
results appropriately. It also intends to develop social skills &
etiquettes, group dynamics, confidence, and writing and com-
munication & presentation skills among students.
In line with the objectives and intended learning outcomes,
the course, consisted on basic concepts of “qualitative research
methods” in education and activities for each of the methods.
These contents of the course included procedure of conducting
qualitative studies—observation, case study, interview, select-
ing population & sampling, research tools & their develop-
ments and administration, and working on independent research
project. The instructor took a three-hour class weekly for 16
Students’ Profile
The participants of the study were 32 (25% male and 75%
female) students (average of the three classes) who completed
their three semesters at the varsity. They had completed their
14-years education with majors in social sciences under annual
system of examination. Now they were studying under semester
system and having completed three semesters successfully in
the varsity/co-education. They were aware of the university
environment and appeared to be more confident than varsity
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 181
beginners. Their academic record indicated consistency in ach-
ievement scores ranging from second to first division. They
belonged to different social classes and geographical locations—
urban and rural areas.
Course Delivery or In structional Mechanism
The medium of instruction was Bi-lingual: English and Urdu.
The researcher prepared brief handouts for students on each of
the topics and delivered in advance to students for their study at
home. They were also advised to consult books for further
reading on qualitative research; like “Handbook of qualitative
research” by Denzin, & Lincoln, (1994) and “Doing qualitative
research: Multiple strategies by Crabtree, & Miller (1992).
The instructor explained concepts in classroom through multi-
media presentations and invited queries from students. Discus-
sion on different topics was also initiated to make students learn
skills of behaving, arguing, acting and reacting in group(s).
At the beginning of the course, a copy of the course outlines
and list of recommended books was provided to all students. A
brief introduction of the course, its requirements and teaching
learning strategies were also explained to the students. The
researcher elaborated to students the significance of activities
for substantiating their learning; “how to apply knowledge”
instead of mere getting information. The instructor also tried to
relate the research skills with professional and social life to
motivate students intrinsically for their active involvement in
learning process. All of the strategies for course offering were
explained to the students. It helped the researcher make stu-
dents’ mind participate in learning process. In spite of all, the
researcher practiced the principle of andragogical approach
throughout the semester.
Findings of the Study
The researcher took notes of his observations on readiness of
students to constructivism, its significance and effects on social
learning of university students. The observation reflected re-
markable findings which are given below:
Readiness of Learners to Participate in Constructivist
The researcher designed activities to engage learners for de-
veloping skills of applying qualitative research methods in
practical situations. It was observed that initially, they felt some
difficulty to take initiative and work on assigned tasks. How-
ever, gradually they showed their keenness on taking academic
initiatives in the class. They were feeling pleasure and enthusi-
asm by involving themselves in activities for constructing their
own knowledge and applying it in their respective contexts. The
researcher engaged them in working on case studies for profun-
dity of knowledge. Case studies are assumed to be necessary
for developing and enhancing cognitive skills of the learners.
They worked in groups voluntarily and showed inclination
towards collaborative learning. The researcher assigned to them
case studies on education to make them capable of applying
their learning by evaluating and analyzing the situations. It
would have been developing the power of judgment and critical
analysis leading towards cognitive development and paving for
advanced level of knowledge construction.
The researcher promoted collaborative learning by assigning
them group tasks. The learners had distributed academic ex-
periences and intellectual abilities, but actually, they were en-
joying groups’ dynamism for learning. They appeared to be
cooperating with each other by sharing learning experiences,
activities, and information. They were zealous in pooling aca-
demic resources for expanding their scholarship for learning.
This practice appeared to be facilitating them in realizing
learning for (knowledge) construction in adulthood.
The learners preferred to work on cooperative projects and
therefore, were involved in such assignments for overcoming
their shyness & introversion. It extended opportunities of
learning from each other by understanding the patterns of be-
haviors & attitudes, thinking and inclination of fellows towards
some specific as well as general academic topic or issue. It
helped the diversified intellect come closer and accept diversity
& differences to live with.
Significance of Constructivist Approach
The learners were engaged in preparing a certain number of
assignments for the entire course. It aimed at developing crea-
tivity and critical thinking: finding facts, and comparing &
contrasting them for value judgment. The researcher observed
that learners presented materials in innovative styles and man-
ners with some help. Gradually, the learner became capable of
writing with flow, coherence, consistency, and uniformity after
synthesizing the facts and information. They interpreted the
information by going through instructional materials and tai-
loring the presentation of contents according to their respective
learning styles.
It was observed that learners took part in discussions for
sharing information or their view points about a topic/or con-
cept and learning experiences for arriving at some sound and
precise conclusions called new knowledge. Such discussions
were initiated through seminars for elaboration of ideas and
knowledge of the specific topic(s) or area(s) under debate. The
learners participated in seminars eagerly to acquiring and shar-
ing information about a burning issue or an important problem
related to qualitative research.
The researcher noted that learners welcomed constructive
feedback and encouraging comments on their assignments.
They amended the weak parts of their assignments under the
guidance of the researcher to meet the quality standards. Th-
rough practice under the guidance of researcher they could
write abstracts and main points or summaries of the assign-
ments and/or projects. They could report their observations of
the field in the form of a comprehensive report with references.
However, they needed mentoring and scaffolding in completing
such tasks.
The researcher perceived that learning under constructivist
approach students enjoyed academic autonomy—having bene-
fits of the self-directed learning making them independent and
self-decisive in their learning choices. The researcher reported
that learners appreciated versatile and comprehensive group
activities which empowered them by loosening their depend-
ency on teachers and making them self-decisive and self-di-
rected in learning choices. Likewise, it was witnessed by the
researcher that female students persuaded more towards subject
than their counterparts. However, male students appeared to be
more submissive and cooperative with their fellows.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Effects of Construc ti vi st Ap pro ach on S oc i al
Learning of University Students
The researcher observed some effects of constructivist ap-
proach on social learning of students as reported below:
Effects of Construc ti vi st Ap pro ach on S oc i al
Learning and Etiquettes
The researcher observed the effects of constructivist ap-
proach on learning etiquettes and mannerism of students. In the
beginning of the semester low sociability of students was re-
ported by the researcher. They showed shyness and introversion.
They were reported to be feeling hesitation in working on col-
laborative and cooperative projects/tasks with their fellows of
opposite gender. However, gradually collaborative and coop-
erative projects/tasks developed confidence among students.
They learned to exchange morning greetings and pass smile.
They learned the group dynamics and ethics of working on
collaborative and cooperative projects/tasks. They facilitated
each other in preparing assignments, presentations and other
academic activities. At the end of the semester the researcher
witnessed that majority of the students appeared to be out spo-
ken practicing social skills and etiquettes. They showed caring
attitude towards each other with patience and endurance for
developing and maintaining academic relationships.
Effects of C onstructi vist Appro ach on Personality
It was observed by the researcher that academic collaboration
and cooperation helped students to develop their personalities.
It enhanced their communication skills to convey ideas and
viewpoints appropriately. They became extrovert and expres-
sive. They shared learning experiences with each other and
sought help from teachers when needed. They desired to con-
tribute to their learning community.
Problems and Issues of Constructivist Approach
The researcher observed to report some problems and issues
in assigning collaborative and cooperative projects/tasks to
students. Initially, some female students showed their reluc-
tance to work with male students because of the social norm
and values. Some female students observed veil and felt diffi-
culty in working with male students. Similarly, some religious
minded (male & female) students had the same reluctance to
work with their counterparts.
Similarly, the researcher noted some reluctance of girls
coming from rural areas to work on collaborative and/or coop-
erative projects with male students. Likewise, the boys of rural
socio-cultural background showed shyness, whereas their coun-
terparts of urban culture sowed negligible or no hesitation to
work with female students.
The researcher concluded that students enjoyed working on
collaborative as well as cooperative projects and tasks. They
were keen on constructing knowledge by involving themselves
in activities and showing their readiness to embrace construc-
tivist approach. Constructivist approach played a significant
role in learning process to constructing knowledge. It helped
them develop qualitative research skills and competencies.
Similarly, collaborative and cooperative work developed con-
tribution spirit among students overcoming their shyness and
introversion. They became independent and capable of taking
initiatives in conducting research projects. They also learnt
ethics, social skills and etiquettes in groups. However, some
culture related problems like working of female students with
their counterparts and shyness of rural students were noted.
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