The (misguided) Case for Fully Guided Instruction

This journal article has great ambitions. ± “Our goal is to put to an end to the debate” on whether instruction should be guided, unguided, or somewhere in between in order for people to best learn.

But it has a foundational flaw, and if you’re a reader that understands constructivism at all, that flaw prevents it from doing anything of the sort.

Like a number of other “debunking” type articles that purport to shoot down parts of the constructivist model, it misunderstands what constructivism is. Specifically, it misunderstands which “level of the stack” constructivism describes. This is crucial. If you get this wrong, then you start to come up with all kinds of misinformed applications of the model.

Constructivism is about hardware, not software.

It’s about the brains (minds) of people when they learn something from the world around them.

It is not about the something

It is a model of how our hardware works when we learn.

It is not a model of what


Constructivism does not suggest that school work should be composed of “constructing” or “building” things. It does not directly suggest project-based work. It does not suggest curriculum or materials of any specific kind. And constructivism does not

Constructivism is a model of what happens inside the learner’s head.



I’ve started reading articles like this when I see them, to understand the misconceptions that are out there and maybe find small ways in which I can bolster my own teaching. By talking explicitly about constructivism and embedding it in my other materials I hope I’ll be able to inoculate the people I teach against this misunderstanding.

Some of these articles are well-argued and thoroughly researched, so it’s important to consider them thoughtfully and pick spots where they can be corrected.


Source: Putting Students on the Path to Learning: The Case for Fully Guided Instruction, by Richard E. Clark, Paul A. Kirschner, and John Sweller; American Educator Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring 2012; AFT – Clark.pdf