Social Constructivism and Distance Learning


November 7, 2012 by idinnovation

In the last twenty years constructivism has garnered a position of influence in pedagogy and the field of Instructional Design.  Social constructivism evolved from works by Vygotsky whose work focused on social interactions, language and culture how when integrated impact learning.  He contends that learning comes from productive conversations with others who have the same or different perspectives based on their own life experiences and from sharing those experiences in shared communities.  The three foundational concepts of social constructivism are (the):

  • Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) – when a learners concepts are conceptualized at an expert level;
  • Intersubjectivity – when agreement is made between learners that they have accomplished of effective communication;
  • Enculturation – when a learner can learn and accept the norms of values or the society in which they live (Woo and Reeves, 2007).

Using the above explanations the interconnectedness of the concepts of social constructivism are easier to grasp and therefore one can understand that learning occurs through the process of intersubjectivity in the enculturalized zone of proximal development (Woo and Reeves, 2007).  Learning is a constructive process (Woo, Reeves, 2007) however, knowledge acquisition is a process that is both social and individual (Rutherford and Kerr, 2008).  Interactivity is defined by Bannan-Ritland (2002) as the active involvement of a learner in instructional activities and technologies that include social interactions and networks.  As described by Chou et al., (2010) three are types of interactivity that must be present in online personalized learning environments:

  • Interaction Type – which includes activity between learner and self, learner and interface, learner and content,  learner and instructor and learner and other learners;
  • Interactivity Dimension (element of interaction type)  – includes user ease of use to include inclusion of information, adaptability, information monitoring, user responsiveness, and interpersonal communication facilitation etc.;
  • Interactive Function – includes technical functionality related to interactivity dimensions (Samah, Yahaya, and Ali, 2011).

Educators acknowledge that individuality is a benefit in education and designers should consider individual differences of students, these could include their learning styles, learning orientations, learning rates, talents, cognitive styles, multiple intelligences, preferences, and needs (Samah, Yahaya, and Ali, 2011).  According to Vygotsy’s theory, learning is the manner by which learners assimilate into knowledge communities therefore it is the individual learner differences that propel and encourage learning in those communities (Woo, Reeves, 2007). By considering individual differences learners are more responsible for their learning, retain information longer, and simplifies application of knowledge thereby increasing interest in learning materials and increasing positive feelings towards the materials (Samah, Yahaya, and Ali, 2011).

The Web and by extension e-learning can support and improve effective learner-to-leaner interactions grounded on social constructivist theory.  The use of Web 2.0 technologies such as E-mail, listservs, and discussion boards allow learners to collaborate with each other.  Online instructors are able to provide necessary guidance through the various tools which provide for both synchronous and asynchronous advice, coaching and feedback (Woo and Reeves, 2007).  Interactive activity in learning is essential to the process of knowledge acquisition and development of cognitive and physical skills (Samah, Yahaya, and Ali, 2011).

Individual differences must be considered in the learning environment to ensure learner satisfaction and achievements through the appropriate application of learning styles, learning orientations, needs and preferences (Samah, Yahaya, and Ali, 2011).  Regardless of the learning theory used it is important to Instructional Designers to understand that inclusion of
a social constructivist theory is haphazard without the implementation of an instructional design model that cultivates the learning theory being utilized (Woo and Reeves, 2007). 
 Finally, The ADDIE model should not be used as an outline on how to manage e-learning projects the field of Instructional Design requires carefully interconnected methodologies to manage the intricacies of e-learning design and development (Brandon, 2004).


Brandon., Bill (2004). Closing the loop in e-learning development: How to reconnect instructional design and project management. Retrieved on November 7, 2012, from

Germain-Rutherford, A., & Kerr, B. (2008). An inclusive approach to online learning environments: Models and resources. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education TOJDE, 9(2). Retrieved from

Samah, N. A., Yahaya, N., & Ali, M. B. (2011). Individual differences in online personalized learning environment. Educational Research and Reviews, 6(7), 516-521.

Woo, Y. and Reeves, T. (2007) Meaningful interaction in web-based learning: A social constructivist interpretation. The Internet and Higher Education, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2007, Pages 15-25, ISSN 1096-7516.

One thought on “Social Constructivism and Distance Learning

  1. Hi Sharifa!

    Its taken me awhile to catch up on things, so please forgive my late response…but I am sure that you are facing numerous daily challenges as well.

    You blog presents a very polished and professional appearance and I enjoyed learning more about Lev Vygotsky. His theory was my major ‘take way’ from EIDT 6115 Learning Theory and Instruction. I share in your conclusion that e-learning can support and improve effective learner-to-leaner interactions when grounded on social constructivist theory. I’ll comment further in the discussion forum.

    I also added my week 2 discussion response to my blog. Please check it out. It’;s a much easier read!

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