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I. Two theories on online pedagogy
A. The Instructive Approach
B. The constructive approach
C. The Instructive approach or the constructive approach?
D. Useful resources

II. The online instructional approaches that I have implemented in my daily teaching
A. Teaching and learning environment for the 1st year Japanese language course
B. My online pedagogy
a. Online quizzes & exercises: An example of the instructive approach
b. Exploring Japanese culture using discussion board: An example of the constructive approach

III. Students’ comments and survey data
A. Survey questions
B. Survey results
C. Then, which online pedagogy is better, the instructive or constructive approach?
D. What other factors are important when we integrate technology into our daily teaching?

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I.Two theories on online pedagogy

A. The Instructive Approach
B. The constructive approach
C. The Instructive approach or the constructive approach?
D. Useful resources

I. Two theories on online pedagogy

     Online pedagogy, like classroom-based pedagogy, has been influenced by learning and instructional theories such as instructivism and recently constructivism. Constructivism is often related to the theories of Piaget who emphasized the role of self-discovery and peer collaboration and Vygotsky who stressed the role of interactions between novices and experts. Instructivism is related to behaviorism. It is an approach to psychology based on the proposition that behavior can be researched scientifically without recourse to inner mental states (
     Since both are theories, when we talk about teaching and learning, it is appropriate to refer practitioners as “instructivist” and “Constructivist” and their pedagogical approaches as instructist and constructivist approaches, or an instructive or constructive view of teaching and learning when we discuss pedagogy. In this paper, I will use the terms: the instructive and constructive approaches.

A. The Instructive Approach

     The instructive approach is based on behaviorist theories, sometimes called direct instruction or objectivism. Lucas (2005) states that the instructive approach incorporates a teacher-directed and carefully planned curriculum, with purposeful teaching at its core. It follows two basic assumptions. First, the purpose of instruction is to help the learner understand and interact with the world; and secondly learner should be directed by instructors, who make the decisions about the content and sequence of the learning. The instructors would base these decisions on professional training and scholarship. Malibar and Pountney (2002) stated that the instructivist, or behaviorist, approach, is to pre-plan a curriculum by breaking down a subject area (usually seen as a finite body of knowledge) into assumed component parts, and then sequencing these parts into a hierarchy ranging from simple to more complex.
     The major criticism of this approach is that learners have few opportunities to develop critical and reflective skills. In this approach, teachers know what their students should learn and how they are expected to behave. Susan summarizes the criticism of instructivsm as follows:

For students, there is little room for self-discovery and reflection. In instructivsm, real world situations are not the models of instruction, nor are there modifications made for individual learning styles; the lecture, in its different forms of primary, secondary and tertiary, is the primary mode of content delivery. Students are aware of expected learning outcomes, and outcomes are easily assessable. Further, students are rewarded for success, as in behaviorism, and failure is not tolerated. The object is to focus on the content itself, not the learner or learning experience.


B. The constructive approach

     Constructivism is an epistemology, a theory of knowledge used to explain how we know what we know. Constructivist learning is based on students' active participation in problem-solving and critical thinking regarding a learning activity, which they find relevant and engaging. Learners are constructing their own knowledge by testing ideas and approaches based on their prior knowledge and experience, applying these to a new situation, and integrating the new knowledge gained with pre-existing intellectual constructs. It is assumed that students learn best by interacting with the presence of others who possess the knowledge that required at that stage of development. Through this collaboration, students are motivated and encouraged to remain focused on the task. While the instructivism approach deals with a setting where the educator provides the information with students who are passive learners, in the constructive approach, students are active agents who can construct knowledge for themselves.
Therefore, in teaching, the principle of constructivism serves as a guide in the design of learning environments and the role of teacher is to create learning settings which encourage the learning activities mentioned above.


C. The Instructive approach or the constructive approach?

     Margles (1996) states that over the past fifty years, the process of instructional technology has been shaped by advances in learning and instructional theory, and much of the developmental work to date has been associated with instructivism. That is that instructional designers tended to map a particular reality onto learners. Therefore, it is natural to assume that online learning has been associated with instructivism. As constructivism has become the more favorable principle of teaching and learning, instructional designers have increasingly thought out how to create an environment in which learners can experience and develop sophisticated ideas from a variety of domain.
     Today, the constructivist approach is mainstream in online teaching and learning. The many literatures describe instructive and constructive approaches as both ends of the spectrum, and differentiate them clearly. For example, Coghlan (2002) differentiates two approaches as follows:

Traditional (Instructivist)

Teacher driven Student driven
Solo Collaborative
Summative assessment Formative assessment
Teachers ‘give’ knowledge Students build (construct) knowledge
Teacher is expert Students’ knowledge is valid starting point

‘Regurgitation’ of information; memorization
Analysis, exploration, synthesis of information (higher order thinking skills)
Content based Process based
Passive Active
Clear end point Ongoing

Work by Michael Coghlan (WebCT Asia Pacific Conference, March 25 – 27 2002).

     Hofstetter also presents a diagram to help software designers to create programs that succeed and can help transform the traditional teacher-centered classroom into a more learner-centered environment. In his table, he uses the terminology of teacher-dominated and cognitive perspectives. The former could be characterized as the instructive approach and the latter as the constructive approach.

Teacher-Dominated Perspective Cognitive Perspective
Teacher Centered Learner Centered
Teachers Present Knowledge Students Discover and Construct Knowledge
Students Learn Meaning Students Create Meaning
Learner as Memorizer Learner as Processor
Learn Facts Develop Learning Strategies
Rote Memory Active Memory
Teacher Structures Learning Social Interaction Provides Instructional Scaffolding
Repetitive Constructive
Knowledge Is Acquired Knowledge Is Created
Teacher Provides Resources Students Find Resources
Individual Study Cooperative Learning and Peer Interaction
Sequential Instruction Adaptive Learning

Teacher Manages Student Learning
Students Learn to Manage Their Own Learning

Students Learn Others' Thinking
Students Develop and Reflect on Their Own Thinking
Isolationist Contextualist
Extrinsic Motivation Intrinsic Motivation
Reactive Teachers Proactive Teachers
Knowledge Transmission Knowledge Formation
Teacher Dominates Teacher Observes, Coaches, and Facilitates
Mechanistic Organismic



Hofstetter’s Comparison of the Teacher-Dominated and Cognitive Perspectives on Education (Table 4-1) (

My approach

     I personally believe that it would be most beneficial to take an advantage of the positive elements of both theories of constructivism and instructivism instead of positioning yourself on the edge of the spectrum. I am not alone in this position. Phassen states that the most realistic model of learning lies somewhere on the continuum between these positions. Based on our professional knowledge and experience, we can set up target objectives and organized how each component is effectively acquired (the instructive approach) and at the same time, we create opportunities for learners to take an initiative in their learning actively (the constructive approach).


D. Useful resources on constructivism and instructivism


  • Wikipedia
  • emTech

Title: Constructivism
Description: List of definitions and reading on constructivism by School of Education, University of Colorado at Denver

Title: Constructivism and Instructivism
Description: Learning and Teaching Centre Web Pages at University College Worcester’s site. It presents a brief concise summary on both theories. Easy to understand.

Title: Constructivism vs. Instructivism
Professor Cheryl A. Wissick’s site introduces teachers, briefly, to example philosophies and opinions regarding constructivism vs Instructivism

Title: Principle of Instructional Technology: Theories/Models of Learning
Description: Dr. Susan Lucas’s site that describe major theories on instructional technology. Excellent summaries.

Title: "Online Communities for Teaching Japanese"
Description: Richards sensei’s paper. Key words are Japanese Language Education, Social Constructivism, Social Computing, and Online Communities

Title: “Cognitive Versus Behavioral Psychology
Description: Professor Fred T. Hofstetter’s article that presents a chat to contrast two approaches


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