Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Minimal Guidance is Relative

I recently read an interesting article entitled Why Minimal Guidance during Instruction Does Not Work that brought up a whole new world of thoughts about constructivism into my mind. The article uses three main arguments to explain how constructivist approaches to learning have not worked including Sweller's cognitive load theory, theories about long term and short term memory, and differences between experts and novices.

The first thought that I had with regard to this article is how do they define “work,” or whether a certain activity is working or not. It is made clear that this is when learned items are stored in long term memory. But aren't there many other ideas in the field of whether something works or not based on other criteria? For instance, instead of just storing something in long term memory, shouldn't we be able to perform in some greater capacity than we were able to before an activity. What if motivation to learn is a specific problem, then shouldn't this be used as a criteria for what works in an activity? And what of problem-solving ability, is this not very useful in our information age?

The authors also blanket all types of subjects and learners into one great whole when they say that guided instruction works better than minimal guidance. The only distinction that is made is between novices and experts. I see a more comprehensive continuum between novices and experts and at some point, I think we are better off giving minimal guidance as learners become more experienced.

Also, one of the main tenets of the article is the idea that so many constructivist activitys are done with too little guidance and that adding guidance is admitting that constructivism is inadequate. I don't think this is the case. Based on my experience working with some constructivists, the authors' view of constructivism is very different from what actually happens. In fact most would agree that giving no guidance is ineffective for promoting learning on either side of the spectrum. It seems to me that the difference is that constructivists want to give enough guidance to help the learner along, but not so much that they stifle the creativity and problem-solving ability of the learner.

Lastly, the authors mention that giving learners complete and correct information is the best method for learning to occur. A constructivist may say “whose information are they being given?” In other words, constructivism may challenge the notion that there is one correct version of the information irrespective of the situation or knower of the information.


Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance during Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75.

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