Adult learning has been a matter of extensive research for decades. Scholars and educators have come up with various strategies and theories to facilitate learning (Alhassan, 2012). It is noteworthy that researchers have had rather different views on goals of learning and ways to achieve them. It is possible to compare two theories of learning to understand the way people’s opinions differ on the matter. This paper includes a comparison of cognitivist and constructivist theories.
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It is necessary to note that both theories were developed in the middle of the 20th century as a response to the behaviorist theory (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). Advocates of the cognitivist theory were Piaget, Lewin, Kohler, Koffka, Ausubel and others while Piaget, Candy, Dewey, Vygotsky developed the constructivist theory (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007). The two theories focus on cognition rather than behavior.
It is necessary to add that the constructivist approach is rooted in the cognitivist theory, but it has a different focus. Thus, the cognitivist theorists concentrate on information processing (Merriam et al., 2007). According to this theory, the learning happens as a result of the functioning (and development) of the memory, metacognition and perception. At the same time, constructivist theorists see the learning process as a result of experience (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). People acquire knowledge through doing and experiencing things.
The focuses of the theories are also rather different. The cognitivist approach concentrates on the internal cognitive structure (Merriam et al., 2007). In other words, the researcher tries to understand how the human’s memory and cognition works and how this can be used to acquire knowledge and skills. Whereas, the constructivist theory focuses on the social as well as the individual construction of knowledge (Merriam et al., 2007). To put it in another way, the researcher develops strategies involving social collaboration and experiences aimed at the acquisition of knowledge.
The purpose of learning is also slightly different. For instance, in constructivism, the goal of learning is to construct knowledge while the cognitivist theorists try to develop the capacity to learn better (Merriam et al., 2007). The instructor plays rather different roles in the two approaches as well. Regarding the cognitivist theory, the instructor provides the necessary content for the learning activity while the constructivist practitioner assists the learner to make the meaning through various experiences (Merriam et al., 2007).
It is possible to state that these two approaches are the most appropriate for the adult learning as they are context-based and oriented on the acquisition of the necessary skills. When it comes to the cognitivist theory, the learner understands better his capacity and identifies strategies that are applicable to his/her particular case. I benefited from this approach as I started learning better when I focused on the development of memory and cognitive skills. At present, I am a more effective learner, and I can spend less time to memorize data, which is essential for me as a professional. I believe the rest of adult learners will benefit from this approach as it provides the necessary background for the lifelong learning.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that the cognitivist and constructivist theories have a lot in common but differ in various aspects. The former approach focuses on internal learning (through information processing) while the latter concentrates on external learning (through experiencing). At that, adult learners can benefit from the use of both approaches as they can be applicable in different situations.
Alhassan, A.M. (2012). Factors affecting adult learning and their persistence: A theoretical approach. European Journal of Business and Social Sciences, 1(6), 150-168. Web.
Ertmer, P.A., & Newby, T.J. (2013). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43-71. Web.
Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S., & Baumgartner, L.S. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Web.