Constructivist Pedagogy in the Current Digital Landscape
In the current digital information landscape, it is more important than ever that users understand (1) how to locate information and (2) how to decipher the information they find. Information resources are no longer limited to a library or physical institution but may also be found through the use of everyday devices, such as smartphones and computers. The role of the information professional is evolving beyond a seeker of information. As information professionals, we are tasked with educating patrons on the process of information discovery and not just the product. We can no longer be a source of information, only providing answers to questions. It is our duty to prepare and train users to locate quality information for themselves. We must also accomplish this in a way that promotes continuous lifelong learning.
The constructivist pedagogy model speaks to creating self-sufficient learners by working with the student to seek the answer on their own. The educator asks more questions rather than supply answers while at the same time providing learning tools to help the learner accomplish their endeavor. Thus, the student’s process of learning is of greater importance than the matter being covered (UCD Teaching and Learning, n.d.). The interaction between information professional and information user falls precisely into this pedagogical realm during a reference transaction, and an instructional interaction in information literacy.
Foundations of Constructivist Pedagogy
Constructivism is a collective theory that arose from the works of Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget and Bruner. The theoretical discourse around nurturing a learner to become self-disciplined and self-motivated emerged in the early 20th Century. John Dewey (1933) proposed that students solve problems in workshops that centered on real-life issues. In these workshops, students would work together to creatively locate and present the information for themselves instead of memorizing and regurgitating information provided by the instructor. Bruner’s method (1990) follows a Socratic ideal of discovery learning in which learners are encouraged to solve the question for themselves through contemplation in order to achieve clarification. In Piaget’s (1968) approach, learners are allowed to continuously test their theories in order to come to the solution.
According to Piaget’s Cognitive Development theory, learners reach various stages of understanding before reaching the greater learning goal. In other words, learners are limited in their ability to understand information if they have not gained an understanding of foundational stages (Piaget, 1964). Later on, he expanded on this theory, explaining that new information is also molded to fit our current knowledge while our current knowledge also changes in order to accept the new information. During this conception of equilibration, the learner will understand the information in various ways at any given time as they pass from assimilation to accommodation and finally to equilibration (Piaget, 1985).
Vygotsky, known of as the founder of social constructivism, argued that the social context is part of the learning experience. His model of learning addressed three important factors, which make up the social influence in learning: language, culture and knowledge (Vygotsky, 1978). Additionally, Vygotsky identified the zone at which learning actually takes places for the learner. He named this the Zone of Proximal Development, where educators or peer learners help an individual to understand information just beyond their area of current knowledge. The purpose of the educators and peers in constructivist pedagogy, therefore, is to create intermediate steps to guide the learner from their initial knowledge stage to the desired knowledge stage. These intermediate steps were named “scaffolding” by Vygotsky following the metaphor of architectural construction. The diagram below illustrates the process of scaffolding as a support for learning in Vygotsky’s model for constructivist pedagogy:
Reference Pedagogy and Information Professionals
Elmborg (2002) suggested that librarians apply constructivism directly into their reference question inquiry. Reference pedagogy as he called it “depend[s] on engagement with an ongoing process” (p. 458). In this approach, patrons maintain control of their question and the outcome of the information. Librarians only guide the patron through teachable moments as their Zone of Proximal Development is established. For an information professional, being able to identify this moment can assist a patron in opening their understanding of the information and the world around them.
In the context of information environments, the librarian and information professional play the role of the educator in services, such as assisting patrons in locating information through a library virtual database, as well as providing information literacy sessions. These services should be designed to give users the tools for locating, understanding and using information. Using constructivist pedagogy as a foundation, these services not only give information users and library patrons the tools they need, but also build confidence in the patron through guided practice and instruction.
Information professionals can and should make a difference in how library patrons interact with information and digital devices. It is our responsibility to address and bridge the digital gap, and we can do this through our reference interviews and introductory information literacy sessions. Understanding and applying the constructivist pedagogical approach when interacting with information users will support the user-centered approach to providing high quality information services. The relationship between library instructional services and information overload is discussed in the following section. LINK TO: INFORMATION OVERLOAD.
Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: D.C. Heath and Co.
Elmborg, J. K. (2002). Teaching at the desk: Toward a reference pedagogy. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 2(3), 455-464.
Fisher, K., Erdelez, S., & McKechnie, L. (2005). Theories of information behavior. Medford, NJ: Published for the American Society for Information Science and Technology by Information Today.
Piaget J. (1964). Cognitive development in children: Piaget development and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) 2(3), 176–786.
Piaget, J. (1968). Six Psychological Studies. Anita Tenzer (Trans.), New York: Vintage Books.
Piaget, J. (1985). Equilibration of cognitive structures. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
UCD Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Education theory: Constructivism and social constructivism.Open Educational Resources of UCD Teaching and Learning, University College Dublin. Retrieved from http://www.ucdoer.ie/index.php/Education_Theory/Constructivism_and_Social_ Constructivism
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.