Week 6: Communal Constructivism – Introducing the concept

"Builders" by Roger Reuver. Creative Commons licence CC BY
“Builders” by Roger Reuver. Creative Commons licence CC BY

The e-Learning Ecologies MOOC: Week 6 Question

Make a post introducing a collaborative intelligence concept. Define the concept and provide at least 1 example of the concept in practice. Be sure to add links or other references and images or other media to illustrate your point. If possible, select a concept that nobody has addressed yet so we get a well-balanced view of collaborative intelligence. Collaborative intelligence concepts might include:

Distributed intelligence; Crowdsourcing; Collective intelligence; Situated cognition; Peer-to-peer learning; Communities of practice; Socratic dialogue; Community and collaboration tools; Wikis; Blogs; Or suggest a concept in need of definition!

My Response

The fifth of the seven “e-affordances” is introduced in week 6 of the e-Learning Ecologies MOOC. It is the turn of collaborative intelligence which describes a process whereby knowledge is co-created and co-produced by a collective of individuals. The concept that I would like to introduce is communal constructivism.

Communal constructivism is a term that was first introduced in 2001 by Holmes and colleagues and they defined it as:

…an approach to learning in which students not only construct their own knowledge (constructivism) as a result of interacting with their environment (social constructivism), but are also actively engaged in the process of constructing knowledge for their learning community. (Holmes et al., 2001)

Drawing comparisons to Vygotsky’s (1978) theories and social constructivism, Leask & Younie (2001) argue that communal constructivism is significantly different to social constructivism in a number of ways:

  • the emphasis on communal building of knowledge (rather than the individual);
  • drawing on actual and real situations (rather than ideal or theoretical situations) through contacting communities with specialist knowledge around the world, to build this knowledge;
  • the integral role that technology plays in the high-quality application of communal constructivist approaches.

Scrimshaw (2001) argues that social constructivism is “best seen as an explanatory and descriptive theory of learning” (p.136), whereas communal constructivism could be perceived as a “pedagogic theory” that is concerned with the “research and understanding [of] the ways in which good learning is brought about” (p.136). However, constructivism is, perhaps, best understood as a “continuum” rather than a “distinct theoretical position” (Doolittle, 1999), though Vygotsky’s (1978) social constructivism perspective has emerged as the dominant and “commonly acceptable form of constructivism” (Pountney, Parr & Whittaker, 2002).

But for Holmes and colleagues (2001), they felt that social constructivism failed to given an adequate account of the way that information and communications technologies (ICT) could “add something else to the learning process”, suggesting that communal constructivism offers a useful explanatory mechanism:

What we argue for is a communal constructivism where students and teachers are not simply engaged in developing their own information but actively involved in creating knowledge that will benefit other students. In this model students will not simply pass through a course like water through a sieve but instead leave their own imprint in the development of the course, their school or university, and ideally the discipline. (Holmes et al., 2001:1).

Girvan & Savage (2010:346) go on to list six core features that have been identified with communal constructivism, these being:

  1. interaction with the environment, group members, and learning objects;
  2. active collaboration;
  3. engagement in knowledge construction;
  4. publishing of knowledge;
  5. transfer of knowledge between groups;
  6. dynamic and adaptive course.

As Leask & Younie (2001:131) conclude, communal constructivism provides a useful explanatory mechanism to account for the ways in which ICT brings something extra to the learning process.


Doolittle, P.E. (1999). “Constructivism: The Career and Technical Education Perspective”. Journal of Vocational and Technical Education, 16(1). Available at: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JVTE/v16n1/doolittle.html [Accessed 24.2.2015].

Girvan, C. & Savage, T. (2010). “Identifying an appropriate pedagogy for virtual worlds: A Communal Constructivism case study”. Computers & Education, 55(1), pp. 342–349. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.01.020 [Accessed 24.2.2015].

Holmes, B., Tangey, B., FitzGibbon, A., Savage, T. & Mehan, S. (2001). “Communal Constructivism: Students constructing learning for as well as with others”. Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) 2001 Conference, Orlando, FL, 5-10 March 2001. Available at: https://www.cs.tcd.ie/publications/tech-reports/reports.01/TCD-CS-2001-04.pdf [Accessed 24.2.2015].

Leask, M. & Younie, S. (2001). “Communal Constructivist Theory: Information and Communications Technology Oedagogy and Internationalisation of the Curriculum”. Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education, 10(1-2), pp. 117-134. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14759390100200106 [Accessed 24.2.2015].

Pountney, R., Parr, S. & Whittaker, V. (2002). “Communal Constructivism and Networked Learning: Reflections on a Case Study”. Proceedings from Networked Learning 2002, University of Sheffield, 26-28 March 2002. Available at: http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2002/proceedings/papers/30.htm [Accessed 24.2.2015].

Scrimshaw, P. (2001). “Communal Constructivist Theory: A Response to Leask & Younie”. Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education, 10(1-2), pp. 135-141. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14759390100200107 [Accessed 24.2.2015].

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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