Term Paper: Positivism and Constructivism Positivism vs

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Positivism and Constructivism


The Better Option in the Quest for Knowledge


In 1822, French philosopher Auguste Comte introduced the concept that social interactions, like physical science, could be investigated to draw universal rules to guide them (Kim 2003). Until that time, religious beliefs and sentiments explained social phenomena. Comte argued that the human world could be detached and analyzed in an objective way in order to find answers or explain phenomena. His concept of positivism could do so through scientific objectivity and observation by means of the five senses. Religious beliefs and sentiments were unnecessary and should be replaced. From this revolutionary idea of a social world, perceivable and measurable by experience and observation, grew the positivistic approach to research and learning (Kim).

Positivism assumes that the physical world and social events can be studied and examined in the same way as physical phenomena (Kim 2003). The resulting theory and the principles and inferences on human behavior and phenomena are universal. Social researchers treat their subjects as separate from them and as having their distinct existence. The derived knowledge can be formalized by using and defining different theories and variables. And quantified observations and statistical analyses test hypotheses. Positivism sees knowledge as corresponding to truth as both relate to external reality and that the source of truth is in reality. Hence, a given statement is true if it agrees with a given external reality. It is false if it does not. It also advocates the use of empirical verification methods. These are objective and, thus, do not influence the process and direction of the investigation. It also requires the use of scientific language and the adoption of a value-neutral approach in arriving at universal and accurate statements and laws about the world. The knowledge, which is distilled from independent reality, thus becomes acceptable to reasonable minds (Kim).

Empirical methods reveal how the rational structure of scientific investigation is formally arrived at and tested (Kim 2003). The study or investigation typically starts by stating an inconsistency among already established theories. It then states a temporary finding as the question or problem to be studied or investigated. A hypothesis is afterwards drawn to deduce predictions. If the predictions confirm the hypothesis, the hypothesis is accepted as valid and genuine knowledge. If rejected, the hypothesis is changed or replaced and the entire procedure repeated. Methodically generated knowledge accurately describes reality and is thus accepted as the truth as arduously achieved by the stringent empirical verification process (Kim).


Constructivism is another theory of investigation or learning, likewise based on observation and scientific study (Thirteen 2004). It suggests that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experience and a reflection of experience. Each person creates his own knowledge. In order to achieve this, he needs to ask questions, to explore and to evaluate his current stock of knowledge. In the classroom, the teacher encourages the student to use active techniques to create more knowledge. These techniques include experiments and real-life problem-solving. The student reflects on and discusses what he does and how it changes his understanding. The teacher remains aware of the student's preconceptions and prejudices. She guides the learning activity and addresses the preconceptions and prejudices. She is expected to consider these and to just build on them. By questioning himself and the reliability of his strategies, he becomes an "expert learner." In the constructivist classroom, the teacher's role and the value of expert knowledge are changed. The teacher helps the student construct knowledge rather than just assimilating and memorizing facts. The constructive teacher makes available appropriate tools with which the student can formulate and test his own ideas, draw conclusions and make inferences, collect and convey the knowledge he gathers. The student changes from a passive recipient of prepared information to an active creator and constructor of his own knowledge. He no longer needs to simply and mechanically swallows and memorizes knowledge from his teacher or the textbook (Thirteen).

Constructivism invigorates the student's natural curiosity about the world and how things work (Thirteen 2004). He applies existing knowledge and the real-world experience in hypothesizing, testing theories and then draws conclusions from his own findings. He creates new understanding for himself or herself. The teacher only guides, leads, suggests and makes sure that the classroom is always conducive to experiment and queries and scrutiny of what does not seem to work. it's a hands-on situation. Being so, it demands the student's full participation. The constructivist also reflects on his learning, discusses it and his activities, and helps fix his own goals and means of assessing them. He controls his own learning process. By reflecting on what he learns, he leads the way, which then makes him an expert in his own learning. Reflection is most involved in solving problems, which is the main activity in a constructivist classroom. He uses inquiry methods to ask questions, examine a topic and look for solutions and answers. While he does these, he forms conclusions and keeps referring to these as he continues to explore and gain more learning. The conclusions never seem final, as more exploration of more questions only brings in more questions to investigate (Thirteen).

The student in a constructivist class responds to new information in one of three ways (Thirteen 2004). If it agrees to his existing knowledge, he adds and incorporates the new information into his current stock. If it disagrees but he thinks it is more acceptable, he can decide to change his current stock and substitute this new one. This may require harder adjustment. But if the new information does not fit and he wants to retain his current stock, he can decide to ignore the new information. Lots of new information simply lie around, some are unnoticed, some accepted and some rejected. At any time, the student may notice overlooked information or consider a rejected one and, this time, incorporate it into his storage of knowledge (Thirteen).


Positivism and constructivism both seek the truth and aim at gaining new knowledge. But in all other ways, they are opposed. Positivism assumes that truth and knowledge lie in the external reality, which can be arrived at only through objective scientific analysis. The five senses deliver the objective data, which are subjected to tedious processes of formal theories and variable. The data are measurable, demonstrable and detached from the learner. These are subjected to statistical analyses beyond the influence and opinion of the researcher and the learner. The process of inquiry or investigation uses a scientific language and a value-neutral tone. It tests previous knowledge through the arduous verification process. The overall purpose is to arrive at or form universal laws about the problem under investigation or study. The decision-maker and verifier of the knowledge is the external reality. The external reality is formatted for the routine acceptance of the learner. It is transmitted to him through the teacher and the textbook. The focus of the positivist classroom is that formatted external reality, which the student passively ingests.

In contrast, constructivism assumes that the learner constructs his own knowledge from outside inputs. Learning is subjective, personalized and individualistic. The student perceives truth and knowledge as both external and internal realities but it is his individual reflection, which determines what he should accept as truth and knowledge. He asks questions pertinent to his unique circumstances to which he applies the worth of the study or investigation. He thus uses personal language and personal value in exploring the question. He can accept, change or discard any external information as it suits his circumstances. He is the sole, complete and final decision-maker and verifier of his own learning and the knowledge he chooses.

Special Needs Students and the Use of Technology

There has been increasing application of assistive technology for handicapped students who are blind or are not able to use their hands (Occupational Outlook 2002). In 1997, Congress passed a mandate for the provision of special education services. In 2001, the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act set up a national electronic file format for textbooks, easily convertible to Braille, digital or other versions for the use of the handicapped. The following year, the Department of Education offered grants to teachers who would train in special education in the use of technology. Yet the use of assistive technology is only part of what special educators do (Occupational Outlook).

Students with sensory, cognitive or physical disabilities can access various websites, which accede to their learning needs (Sacco 2002). Examples are the Alliance for Technology Access and the National Center to Improve Practice. The Alliance provides a link to vendors associated with special needs. The National Center, on the other hand, promotes the effective use of technology for special students. They may also choose from among existing software and hardware to suit their particular needs. Both Apple and Microsoft have adapted their products to the needs of the handicapped. Software companies also provide tools to facilitate access to students… [END OF PREVIEW]

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