The 3 C’s: Constructivism, Constructionism, & Critical Pedagogy

I am currently in an Education class: Beyond Bits and Atoms – Designing Technological Tools. For this class, were learned about the 3C’s of learning theory: Constructivism, Constructionism, & Critical Pedagogy. Below is my essay, and the continuation of my journey into the world of modern learning theory and how they can inform me as a designer.

The 3 C’s:

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire describes education as a system where “the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat” (Freire, 2000). Constructivism, Constructionism, and Critical Pedagogy seek to define the model of the learner, learning, and knowing differently from the theories such as Instructionism and Behaviorism that shaped current education.

Constructivism, Jean Piaget’s theory of education, focuses primarily on how children learn and cognitive development as “constructions of active learner reorganization” (Fosnot, Perry, 2005). Learners are no longer viewed as “empty vessels” waiting to receive knowledge (Freire, 2000). Instead, in this model the learner plays an active role in their learning by creating schemata. As learners “reach beyond the grasp” into new territory, they are forced to either assimilate or accommodate the new information with previously existing schemata and information. Accommodation, the process by which the learner reflects on the new and prior knowledge and then modifies or creates new schema to create cognitive equilibrium, is trans formative growth and learning. Piaget views this learning process as non-linear and instead a “dynamic dance of progressive equilibria, adaptation and organization, growth and change” (Fosnot, Perry, 2005). While Constructivism captures new models of learner, learning, and knowing, it lacks focus or clarity on the role of context and media (Ackermann).

Seymour Papert took Piaget’s Constructivism a step further with Constructionism and focused on the role of context and media. There a several key concepts that differentiate Constructionism from Constructivism. First, in the model of the learner, Constructionism emphasizes using tools and context in constructing schemata. As discussed in The Gears of My Childhood, learners through agency and curiosity can assimilate ideas to concrete tools or media (Papert, 1980). These tools and media facilitate the building of both the original schemata as well as opening curiosity into more different areas. Specifically, Papert focuses on the ability of computers and programming to both help the learner assimilate and accommodate ideas as well as giving the learner independence to build their own new “objects to think with”, micro-worlds, and “reach beyond the grasp” (Papert, 1980). Second, in the model of learning, externalizing knowledge by sharing is important. Externalizing knowledge by expressing ideas and feelings allows the learner to sharpen and further shape their ideas. As the learner expresses, there is an iterative process of learning through assimilation, accommodation, and exploration as to what tools and media is the best support. Third, in the model of knowing, tools, context, and media are viewed as useful. While Constructivism claims that taking down the “scaffolding” of concrete to move to “in the head” is important, Papert and Turkle argue that the tools and media of the “scaffolding” can be just as important as the abstract.

Critical Pedagogy, developed by Paulo Freire, views the learner as a cognatizing being; however, it focuses more on the hierarchy of society and the themes of learning. In terms of the model of learning, Critical Pedagogy focuses on dialogue, codification, and conscientization. Learning must be conducted as a dialogue where there is equality among participants, including the teacher. With this dialogue, the teacher should encourage codification, or the gathering of information to help learners become aware of their oppression and problems of society. With this conscientization, the learner can then begin to change their oppression and society’s problems (also known as praxis). Critical Pedagogy is similar to both Constructivism and Constructionism in removing the large step between teachers and students. In addition, similarly to Constructionism but to a greater extent, Critical Pedagogy emphasizes the importance of focusing on themes relevant to the learner. In its execution in schools, Critical Pedagogy and Constructionsim can go hand in hand as discussed in the Travels in Troy with Freire (Bilkstein, 2008). As Critical Pedagogy focuses primarily on the political and problematic society aspects of education, it leaves room open for the implementation. Learners can learn with the aid of technology, tools and construction while focusing on problematic issues within their society, as shown in the Heliopolis workshop.

As a designer, it is important to utilize the theories of the three C’s. First, it is important to understand that the learner is active and gathers experience through interaction with environment. This has several folds. When designing, the impact of the technology, media, and interface should be strongly considered. As discussed in Travels in Troy with Freire, the technology and media chosen should be decided based on the context and environment of the learner. Not only is it important to choose media that assimilates with the media of the learner’s environment but it is also important to analyze the implications of media on the learner over time. Asking the following questions are the beginning of the analysis needed: Is the media or technology available to the target learner? Is it media or technology that can be harmful? Is it media or technology that can grow with the learner, as the learner is active and curious? Another theory that it is important to understand, is the hierarchy created by the technology and media. In all three theories, the teacher moves away from “the oppressor” and towards “a peer”. Designs should encourage this transition. This can be either helping the teacher facilitate or acting as the tool for the learner. In contrast, it should not be designed such that it creates another “oppressor” or forces the learner to  be dependent on this hierarchy. In addition, while not analyzed in depth earlier, Constructionsim and Critical Pedagogy both focus on the relevance of themes/tools to the learner. When designing it is critical to develop dialogue with the target audience. This helps enable the outcome to be relevant and impactful for the learner. For example, the switch from design projects to reduce energy consumption to design projects to improve the safety of illegal electrical connections in Heliopolis (Bilkstein, 2008). The later was significantly more impactful to both the learners and the community. Even when designing toys or other learning devices, there is usually a target audience, and understanding the problems and focus of that audience’s community is important.



Ackermann, Edith. “Piaget’s Constructivism, Papert’s Constructionism: What’s the Difference?” Future of Learning Group Publication, vol. 5, no. 3, 2001, p. 438.

Blikstein, Paulo. “TRAVELS IN TROY WITH FREIRE.” Social Justice Education for Teachers: Paulo Freire and the Possible Dream (2008), 2008, pp. 205–244.

Cole, Michael, and James V. Wertsch. “Beyond the Individual-Social Antinomy in Discussions of Piaget and Vygotsky.” Human Development, vol. 39, 1996, pp. 250–256.

Fosnot, Catherine Twomey, and Randall Stewart Perry. “Constructivism: A Psychological Theory of Learning.” Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice, 1996, pp. 8–33.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 2000.

Papert, Seymour. “Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas.” New Ideas in Psychology, vol. 1, 1983, p. 87, doi:10.1016/0732-118X(83)90034-X.

Papert, Seymour. “PAPERT ON PIAGET.” Time Magazine, vol. 105, 1999.

Turkle, Sherry. “Evocative Objects.” MIT Press, 2007.

Vossoughi, Shirin, and Kris D. Gutiérrez. “Beyond the Individual-Social Antinomy in Discussions of Piaget and Vygotsky.” Human Development, 2016.

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