Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) contend that discovery learning, experiental learning, and constructivist learning, while appealing, do not work well. They provide a rationale for this argument based on what is known about working memory (or long term working memory) and it’s limitations in certain contexts. Environments that are information rich, with little structure, where learners have to navigate through the environment in search of an answer puts a load on working memory, thus making this type of instruction less effective.

We have a particular online course at our college that is very information rich. The instructor has worked for years developing photos, videos, and images in his, mostly text based course. He has short clips of various multimedia in his course including music, comedy, and videos all relating to cultural geography. Students have to navigate through all of his content and then receive an exam and discussion board with a very open ended topic. His grading seems extremely subjective in nature. One might describe the course as being very constructivist in nature because students are given very little information, except a weekly announcement as to what they should do in his course. The course has very low success and retention rates and the sheer size has been a cause of problems from our end for many years (even prior to my employment there). This particular course is very much what Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) might describe as being ineffective because of the small number of elements working memory can handle and because students have very little direction as to what they should do to prepare for the exam. It is information rich, but I do not think students taking their first cultural geography course are ready for the sheer overload of information they receive each week and are expected to retain in order to answer open ended exam questions.

This is but one example of where a constructivist approach has proven to be ineffective given the low success and retention rates in this course.

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), 75-86.

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