Comparing radical, social and psychological constructivism in Australian higher education

a psycho-philosophical perspective

Penelope Van Bergen, Mitch Parsell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


While constructivism enjoys considerable popularity in higher education, both in Australia and internationally, it nonetheless takes a variety of forms. These different interpretations make it difficult to draw strong conclusions about constructivism as a whole. In this essay, we therefore take a psycho-philosophical approach: reviewing and assessing three major versions of constructivism (radical, psychological and social), from both pedagogic and epistemic standpoints. We find no damaging psychological evidence against moderate pedagogic interpretations of constructivism that encourage a focus on how students learn, noting only that these must still be grounded empirically. We find several convincing philosophical arguments against particular epistemic interpretations, however, and against strong pedagogical interpretations that eschew all teacher direction. We conclude by encouraging Australian higher educators to discard the problematic epistemic and psychological versions of constructivism. To expose students to genuine disciplinary inquiry within the academy, we must retain only those versions of constructivism that are philosophically and pedagogically defensible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41–58
Number of pages18
JournalThe Australian Educational Researcher
Issue number1
Early online date30 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • constructivism
  • epistemology
  • pedagogy
  • student-centred
  • relativism
  • higher education

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