On Paradigms of Learning and Policy Implications: Constructivism in an age of being digital

From the age of the Sophists to chaos theorists, educational philosophy has come to be packaged in many names: perennialism, essentialism, social reconstructionism, romanticism, progressivism, technologism, and variants and hybrids of these. Within these the will to be human and the desire to master techniques are embodied.


Dr. Azly Rahman

As we continue our journey in this anxietal, prophetic and somewhat mystical epoch called the Milleneum, educators are forced to consider to preview the prospects of “being human in an increasingly digital world”. Conflicts theorists, among which Critical Theorists and neo- or post-Marxists come into the paradigm of looking at this critical juncture in our development as “conscious beings in the world of technological determinism, have and continue to ask the question of the role of philosophy of education as our guide in this journey. If philosophy means the “love for wisdom” and “education” means the enterprise for “drawing out” our potentials within, what must philosophy of education mean in this yet another Kuhnian shift in learning and teaching?.

Must technological determinism be made to engineer uncritically our forward march towards becoming “one dimensional” as Herbert Marcuse  would say, adding the final victory of the march of advanced post-industrial capitalism which is taking its character as virtual capitalism? In what ways must a humanistic dimension of learning be made to continue to be relevant in our age wherein education is forced to coexist in a technological mode of operation? In this section on the previews and the prospects of such an ontological blend, we look at constructivism as an often-talked-about paradigm of teaching and learning which would mediate the “Freirian and Deweyian push” on the one hand, and the “(Nicholas) Negropontian and the (Norbert) Weinerian pull” on the other; both to illustrate the dialectical dimension of the debate or how we can continue to be and become human in a digitized and networked world.

Philosopher Charles Taylor  suggested that we need not be neither “boosters of knockers” of technology in this age of technological hypism but rather journey through this age of change, complexity and chaos, as Alvin Toffler would term it, in search of our horizons of significance to reach a destination called “authenticity”. If we are to take seriously Robert Bellah et.al.’s  suggestion that the professionalism and technologization of our lives have fragmented the meaning of authentic and progressive individualism, we ought to conceive the coming century as one in which this authenticity and progressivism must be reclaimed. This task entails a new conception; that being digital and being human may not be a contradiction but a juxtaposition of the condition of “being and becoming” in the (Jean-Paul) Sartrean sense (Hans) Gadamarian in nature and (Paulo)  Freirian in its view.

Boosters of technologism, reflective and illustrative in perhaps the writings of MIT Media Lab’s “techno-gurus” like Nicholas Negroponte and Seymour Pappert, have hailed this century and beyond as one in which technology will “liberate us from the mundaneness of everyday lives” and one in which digital technology will dominate and dictate the way we live, work, play and perhaps too, how we make our own history. These boosters are situating our condition of being and learning within a postmodern scenario in which the fantasy is to launch the self into the virtual realm – a life to be lived primarily “on the screen”.

Knockers of technologism, reflective and illustrative in perhaps the writing of Neil Postman, Max Horkheimer, and those from schools of thought such as The Frankfurt School of Social Research have cautioned us on the alienating potentials of technologism and the political-economic context of technological determinism and how the ideology embedded in it can shake our axiological desire to not become dehumanized. These knockers of technology, perhaps having their historical inspiration in the Luddites of the Industrial Revolution will continue to caution on of the digital tools we are given that will determine (or devastate) the way we live, work, play and make our own history. If we or educators are to journey together with those who are entrusted to educate, develop and liberate, how then must we make such a choice? Must we download information onto the minds of the children of Anatole France of ought we, as a guide on the side let them make neural connections on their own – like patterns in a Mandelbrott set? In a world wherein the physical and virtual is increasingly becoming borderless, such as Kuhnian shift in the way we view “philos”, “sofia” and “educare” must uncompromisingly be conceived. Herein lies the prospects of constructivism.

From the age of the Sophists to chaos theorists, educational philosophy has come to be packaged in many names: perennialism, essentialism, social reconstructionism, romanticism, progressivism, technologism, and variants and hybrids of these. Within these the will to be human and the desire to master techniques are embodied. The essential tension lies in the trading offs of the concepts of Grand and Subaltern   narratives; the degree and amount of information to be passed down by teachers for cultural continuity and the freedom given to learners to construct knowledge and manipulate information based upon their “lived“ experience. Inherent  in the idea of constructivism is the greater (if not the greatest) degree of freedom in making neural connections in their three-pound universe so that they can invert realities, become makers of their own history and not be coerced into living by the dominant idea of the epoch and participate in the ideological production of those possessing the political, economic, cultural and informational capital.

Drawn from advances in research from cognitive science (brain laterality, question mechanics, artificial intelligence), humanistic psychology, and reflective sociology  theme, constructivism is promising to be praxical (theory and practice embedded) in character and sustainable in its promise to deal with teaching and learning in the Information Age. It can be conceived to be superstructurally Socratic, Piagetian, Freirian, and Deweyian in pedagogy and one in which may promise to “check and balance” the superstructuralism of technological hypism.

If one is to draw a metaphor for constructivism, it could one be in which the dialogue between Socrates and Meno in a cybercave in cyberspace! If one is to draw a metaphor for a model of teaching, it could be one if and inverted triangle of which the Platonic and Confucian model is replaced with the Einsteinian model. Perhaps too, if one is to build a scenario of the shape of societies to come with Constructivism as a guiding paradigm, we ought to conceive the emergence not only of personalistic, post-industrial selfs engaging in information processing, manipulating and creating activities in a world entirely borderless but perhaps interestingly too the emergence of post-industrial tribes existing in cyber principalities loosely controlled by cybernation-states (withered by digital technologies they allowed themselves to be structured by!).

What then would be the implications and policy recommendation related to such a conception of change in the manner we perceive philosophy of education?

ARCHIVES (2000) written at Columbia University, New York city


While the opinion in the article is mine, 

the comments are yours; 

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