Constructivism: The Foundation of Inquiry Learning


Attribution: ‘Learning Theory’ by Richard Millwood – Licensed under a Creative Commons attribution – Share Alike 2.0  

There is also a live CmapTools version of the above image with clickable links to Wikipedia and InfEd.


Learning theories are frameworks used to explain how people learn and acquire knowledge.  They form the basis of all pedagogical instruction.  Learning theories in education are varied and numerous.  Some focus on the cognitive and emotional influences while others focus on environmental factors and prior experiences of learners.  Not only do they represent the lens through which all learning experiences are designed, they also represent an anchor to which educators can return when their practice needs refocusing.


As I document and embark on the journey of reintroducing inquiry learning into my elementary classroom, I felt the need to explore the theoretical frameworks that support inquiry learning.  Richard Millwoood’s blog posting titled, Learning Theory and, in particular, his visual representation of the main learning theories, helped me link inquiry learning to the paradigm of constructivism.


Constructivism is a theory of knowledge.  It states that humans ‘construct’ knowledge, information, and ability to learn by interacting with and reflecting on their experiences with the world around them.  It has its roots in three core scientific disciplines; Education, psychology, and philosophy.  Constructivism is also connected to the principles of design and cybernetics.  Jean Piaget is said to be the father of the constructivist learning theory, but Jerome Bruner has continued to develop the work started by Piaget.

Constructivism as a Learning Theory

  • Knowledge is constructed and shaped by one’s experiences
  • Learning is a personal interpretation of the world
  • Emphasises problem-solving and understanding
  • Uses authentic tasks, experiences, settings, assessments


Inquiry-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning that places students’ questions, ideas and observations at the centre of the learning experience.  The underlying approach is the idea that both educators and students share responsibility for learning. I like Neil Stephenson’s Introduction to Inquiry-Based Learning and his view that inquiry involves:

  1. Learners tackling real-world questions, issues and controversies
  2. Developing questioning, research and communication skills
  3. Solving problems or creating solutions
  4. Collaborating within and beyond the classroom
  5. Developing deep understanding of content knowledge
  6. Participating in the public creation and improvement of ideas and knowledge

Constructivists Classrooms

An educator’s role in a constructivist classroom is to prompt and facilitate discussion, and to guide students by asking questions that will lead them to develop their own conclusions on a subject.  If inquiry is based on the belief that knowledge is generated through the process of people working and conversing together to tackle real-life problems, and make discoveries, then constructivism and inquiry are a perfect match!


Constructivism (philosophy of education). (2015, February 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:11, February 15, 2015, from (n.d.).  Summaries of learning theories and models.  Retrieved, 10:11, February 15, 2015, from

Learning theory (education). (2015, February 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:35, February 15, 2015, from

Millwood, R. (2013, May 10). Learning theory [Blog Post]. Retrieved 9:02, February 15, 2015, from

Stephenson, N. (n.d.). Introduction to inquiry-based learning [Blog Post]. Retrieved 10:23, February 15, 2015, from