MET:Moodle and Constructivism
This page was originally authored by David Evans (2011).
It was edited by Diane Underhill (2013).
This Wiki entry was created to create clarity of the connections between Constructivism and Moodle, two educational trends that have gained popularity among educators. Although seemingly unrelated, one being an epistemology and the other a Learning Management System (LMS), there are many interconnections that can be drawn between these two trends. Please read on and perhaps contribute to the page to share ways that link Moodle with constructivism.
Please help to illuminate the inherent constructivist affordances of Moodle; contribute to this Wiki.
Overview of constructivist and constructionist theory
Constructivism is a theory of how learning occurs that considers knowledge to be constructed by the learner through prior experience. Individuals are thought to construct mental models to facilitate an understanding of the world around them. This theory also draws on the idea that people are social by nature and places particular importance on the social aspect of learning. Constructivism asserts that new knowledge cannot be forced onto passive learners but must be internalized through active processes as seen in Piaget’s theory of assimilation and accommodation (see external links).
Constructivist theory has influenced many aspects of education. Constructivism maintains that students should be viewed as unique individuals and not merely part of a homogeneous class. The diversity of a student’s background is seen as beneficial to the learning process because it allows the learner to draw from unique experiences to make sense of new material.
Constructivism holds that a learner must take an active role in their education. Passively recieving facts rarely leads to sustained knowledge gains. Deep learning can occur when a student is actively engaged in the knowledge aquisition process. In constructivist theory, the responsibility for learning is not the exclusive burden of the teacher but is now shared with the student.
In giving students more responsibility and accepting their individuality, constructivism hopes to improve motivation for learning. Several studies have found that the motivation to learn is correlated with the learner’s self-efficacy or belief in their own abilities (Von Glasersfeld, 1989; Schunk, 1990).
Constructionism is a step beyond Constructivism in that it holds that learning is enhanced by being consciously engaged in creating a public entity which is shared.. Constructionist learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. However, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in creating tangible objects.
Overview of Moodle
The noun 'Moodle' is an acronym for 'modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment'. It is likely the world's most popular virtual learning environment with more than 66 million users and almost 1.3 million teachers in over 200 countries as of March, 2013. Moodle is popular with both students and teachers because of the variety of tools that facilitate communication and classroom management.
There is also considered by some to be a verb, moodle. To 'moodle' is the practice of enjoyable tinkering that often leads to growing knowledge, insight and creativity. This applies both to the way Moodle was developed and to the way teachers may use it to teach and learn.
There are about 20 different types of activities available to Moodle users (forums, glossaries, wikis, assignments, quizzes, polls, scorm players, databases etc) and each can be customised. This activity-based model permits the combining of activities into sequences and groups, which can help a teacher guide participants through learning paths.
Tools which help teachers include tools for course development, syllabus development, and quiz development. There are also grade books and administrative tools to track individual and group activity.
Tools for students include self-assessment tools, group work areas for collaborative webpage publishing, accounts for access to email, discussion groups, personal grades and progress reports, and course content bookmarking and annotation.
Some Moodle sites may also use the service for e-commerce (for such activities as the reselling of created courses or paying of student fees), creation of e-portfolios, streaming audio or video and access to e-libraries. New plug-ins are continuously being developed by the ever-expanding and committed Moodle community. Moodle tools facilitate the building of communities of learners via blogs, messaging, participant lists, as well as useful tools like grading, reports, integration with other systems.
Constructivism and Moodle’s development
Moodle was first developed by Martin Dougiamas as part of a Ph.D program to examine "The use of Open Source software to support a social constructionist epistemology of teaching and learning within internet-based communities of reflective inquiry."
The open source nature of Moodle is a significant characteristic that sets it apart from other Learning Management Systems (LMS). Behind the philosophy of open source is the idea that by working together with others in a collaborative way, computer programs can be improved. Thus, the source code is not kept secret but is openly shared with the public. By doing so, open source software developers from around the world can and do contribute to the continuous refinement of Moodle. The development of new plugins, themes and modules is undertaken by a globally diffused network of commercial and non-commercial users.
Constructivism asserts that knowledge and reality are built inside the learner, a philosophy that parallels that of open source software, in which the users shape, or have the opportunity to shape, their own product. By nature of being open source, Moodle has the flexibility to be customized and improved by the user.
Constructivism, especially the arm of social constructivism, understands the importance of social interactions, collaboration and connections in the learning process. Moodle has built a worldwide community of people who share, develop, and feel invested in the product that is Moodle. A privately developed LMS is not able to harness the power of these associations and is often viewed as being developed in isolation from the community.
Affiliations between Moodle and Constructivism
Martin Dougiamas suggests 5 social constructionist referents and each is reflected within Moodle:
1. All of us are potential teachers as well as learners - in a true collaborative environment we are both.
The activities within Moodle are constructed to allow students control of the shared content of courses (for example wikis, forums, glossaries, databases, messaging). This allows students the opportunity to share and add to the course experience for others, thus acting much like instructors. An instructor is able to vary access to different activities within a course (for example setting up rotating groups of students to moderate a forum) which may blur the line between student and teacher.
2. We learn particularly well from the act of creating or expressing something for others to see.
Moodle has numerous affordances to permit representations of knowledge for sharing. For example, forum space allows for the sharing of ideas, while media and documents may be shared via hyperlinks and attachments. Wikis may be used for collaborative group work and glossaries are collaboratively built dictionaries. Databases allow participants to share structured media of any type, be they photos or sound-bytes or other formats.
3. We learn a lot by just observing the activity of our peers.
The participants' link in the navigation block of moodle allows both teachers and learners to view the moodle activities of themselves and others. Thus when a student is able to see that most other students have handed in a given assignment, this student might feel some pressure to complete and submit his/her own work. The online users block can be set up to indicate who from the class is currently online, allowing the potential for immediate connection via the Moodle messaging system. Most Moodle modules will 'tag' an entry with the name of the user, allowing class participants to see who contributed effort to a group task, such as a glossary entry or wiki page.
4. By understanding the contexts of others, we can teach in a more transformational way.
The user profile allows class participants to provide information about themselves be it their location, cultural background, research interests, or other information they wish to share with the group. To get a focused view of a particular class participant, one could look at a compendium of forum posts or discussion starters. The individual blogs which are part of Moodle allow for expression of ideas in a public yet reflective way. The survey module within Moodle provides instruments for evaluating the state of mind of the group of learners.
5. A learning environment needs to be flexible and adaptable, so that it can quickly respond to the needs of the participants within it.
Moodle is modular, meaning that components can be added or deleted as necessary based on the teacher's assessment of the needs of the group. This addition or deletion of content can be quite simple to activate or deactivate as needed from any computer with interent access. An instructor also has the ability to control access to modules based on time, conditions or user profile fields.
How Moodle can support constructivism in the classroom
Moodle has many features that encourage collaboration and social interactions while learning. Forums can be easily setup and monitored, assignments can be posted, shared, commented on by peers. Moodle also has a feature called ‘Groups’ that can be used to create smaller collaboration units within a class.
Responsibility for learning (Active Role)
With the use of Moodle, students are expected to take an active role in their learning. They are able to track progress, see missing assignments, and review past work. Student engagement is enhanced when students must navigate their way through lessons, quizzes and assignments.
Promotion and assessment of Constructivism
Built into Moodle are a number of constructivist surveys such as Galotti’s (1999) Attitudes Towards Thinking and Learning Survey (ATTLS) which assesses but also promotes metacognition. Another embedded survey, developed by Taylor and Maor (2000), is the Constructivist On-Line Learning Environment Survey (COLLES). The authors designed the tool to be used by educators to monitor the engagement of students in dynamic learning environments.(See external links to learn more about embedded Moodle surveys.)
Moodle allows for students to work cooperatively even when not sharing the same physical space. Tools such as the chat, forum, and wiki encourage interaction and collaboration among peers.
Metacognition is the process of analyzing one’s thought processes. It is often summarized as “thinking about thinking.” Narode (1989) states that constructivism provides the groundwork for metacognition and the two concepts have been linked by others as well (Sheets, 1994; Phillips, 2002).
The practice of metacognition can be challenging to implement with students as the concept is quite abstract; however, through the process of journaling or free writing, students can transcribe their thought processes and review their progress. Moodle provides an excellent environment for journaling and will afford students a place where they can access their writings anywhere that is web connected. This electronic journal can also be accessed and reviewed by the instructor to monitor the learner’s analysis of their own cognitive processes. (See external links to learn more about metacognition.)
Limitations of Moodle to improve Constructivism
Although Moodle was designed and built along the philosophy of social constructivism, using Moodle alone will not promote constructivism. To extract significant constructivist benefits from this tool, instructors are required to understand and employ methods that parallel the philosophy.
Several factors could limit the effectiveness of Moodle to bring constructivist benefits to learning. Moodle could be used too infrequently to allow the students to feel comfortable sharing and collaborating. If the site is seen as too much of a hassle or treated like a chore that needs to be hastily finished, student engagement may not follow. The added stressors of technology could be enough to disrupt the harmony of learning for some technology averse learners.
Video: Moodle and Constructivism
By Thomas Johnson
Bandura, A. (1995). Self-efficacy in changing societies. New York, NY: Cambridge University. http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam034/94049049.pdf 
Cakir, M. (2008). Constructivist Approaches to Learning in Science and Their Implications for Science Pedagogy: A Literature Review. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 3(4), 193-206. http://www.ijese.com/IJESE_v3n4_Cakir.pdf 
Dougiamas, M., & Taylor, P. C. (2002). Interpretive analysis of an internet-based course constructed using a new courseware tool called moodle. 2nd Conference of HERDSA (the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia), 7-10. http://online.dimitra.gr/sektrainers/file.php/1/MartinDougiamas.pdf 
Forment, M. A. (2007). A social constructionist approach to learning communities: Moodle. Open Source for Knowledge and Learning Management: Strategies Beyond Tools, 369. http://www.irma-international.org/viewtitle/27819/ 
Galotti, K. M., Clinchy, B. M., Ainsworth, K., Lavin, B., & Mansfield, A. F. (1999). A New Way of Assessing Ways of Knowing: The Attitudes Towards Thinking and Learning Survey (ATTLS). Sex Roles, 40(9/10), 745-766.
Gibson, S. & McKay, R. What Constructivist Theory And Brain Research May Offer Social Studies http://www.educ.ualberta.ca/css/Css_35_4/ARconstructionist_theory.htm 
Jonassen, D. H. (1999). Designing constructivist learning environments. In C.M Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory, 2, 215-239. http://www.etc.edu.cn/%E8%AE%BA%E8%91%97%E9%80%89%E6%91%98/David%20Jonassen/Designing%20Constructivist%20Learning%20Environments.htm 
Constructivism (learning theory) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_(learning_theory) 
Narode, R. (1989). A constructivist program for college remedial mathematics at the University of Massachussetts, Amherst, Scientific Reasoning Research Institute. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 309 988)
Phillips, John A. (2002). Metacognition and Constructivism. The Learning Domain. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Retrieved from http://peoplelearn.homestead.com/BEduc/Chapter_6.pdf 
Schunk, D. H. (1990). Goal Setting and Self-Efficacy During Self-Regulated Learning. Educational Psychologist, 25(1), 71-86. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep2501_6 
Sheets, R. A., (1994). The effects of training and experience on adult peer tutors in community colleges. Doctoral Dissertation, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ,13-15.
Taylor, P. C., & Maor, D. (2000). Assessing the efficacy of online teaching with the Constructivist On-Line Learning Environment Survey. Paper presented at the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum - Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching, Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/77501/20071015-1448/lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/taylor.html 
Taylor, P. C., & Maor, D. (n.d.)The Constructivist On-Line Learning Environment Survey (COLLES). SurveyLearning.com - Splash. Retrieved February 20, 2011, from http://surveylearning.moodle.com/colles 
- For a video of Martin Dougiamas discussing the ideology and future of Moodle see http://vimeo.com/15933942 
- For a desciption of Piaget's Assimilation and Accomodation see http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/assimacc.htm 
- For information on the utility of ATTLS and COLLEs see http://web.trinity.edu/Documents/clt_docs/Surveys%20and%20Choices.pdf 
- For a scholarly discussion of meta-cognition see http://gse.buffalo.edu/fas/shuell/cep564/metacog.htm 
- For an excellent chapter on the interconnections and history between constructivism and metacognition see http://peoplelearn.homestead.com/BEduc/Chapter_6.pdf