Objectivism in Philosophy and Teaching Methodology

The following article has the aim to deal more practically with what constructivism criticizes. In this context, terms such as objectivistic and objectivism are often heard.

The Philosophy of Objectivism

The only thing that the philosophies of objectivism and constructivism have in common is the conviction that there is a reality apart from the individual. Yet, they offer incompatible answers to the question of epistemology on the human capacity for understanding.
While from a constructivist point of view, a human being constructs his own reality, objectivists say that human experiences play only a minor role in structuring the world, as “meaning is something that exists in the world quite aside from experience” (Duffe/Jonassen 2). Consequently, knowledge is considered as existing externally and independent from the learner.  That means, it corresponds to the accurate representation of objectivistic reality (Bernstein 9).  Thus, we can conclude that the aim of learning is to acquire knowledge of objects, their characteristics and interactions.

Variations of objectivism are, for example, the symbol-theoretical copy theory, naive realism and the Philosophy of Common Sense. They are all based on the existence of an objective reality that is to be perceived - and not, as constructivists claim, created.
The Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand holds the same conviction. She seems to be the only one to call herself an objectivist. She was the founder of the Philosophy of Objectivism, which is based on fundamental statements on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. The following of her statements are useful for our purposes:

Traditional Teaching Methods and Objectivist Approaches to Didactics

From an epistemological or philosophical point of view, constructivism can be seen as a counterpart to objectivism. However, when didactics is concerned, constructivism does not only dissociate itself from the methods of knowledge transfer consciously referring to objectivism, but also from the traditional teaching method. Although  frequently used as a negative example by constructivists, the traditional method cannot simply be attributed to conscious objectivistic approaches. Teaching methods may have been developed on a basis of a constructivist epistemology and employed with conviction. Nevertheless, the traditional teaching method is normally not chosen due to objectivistic conviction but simply because it is the method most common.
As a conclusion, the use of the traditional teaching method does not explicitly mean that it is based on objectivist convictions. In the same way, an objectivist conviction does not necessarily lead to a traditional way of teaching.
For instance, Ayn Rand advocates the philosophy of objectivism, yet her considerations on how knowledge is transferred do not lead to the traditional teaching method. On the contrary, the long-standing head of the Ayn Rand Institute clearly dissociates himself from the traditional teaching method as well as from the progressive one and defends the position of Montessori ("Ayn Rand And Education").

Education homepage of the Ayn Rand Institute

Description of a Traditional Classroom

The methods used in traditional classrooms leave room to conclude that they are based on objectivistic theories. As constructivists tend to illustrate and distinguish their own approaches to teaching before this background, the following paragraphs give further information on the traditional approach to teaching. However, this description is simplified and does not represent a philosophy or an approach declared by any educational institution.

In a traditional situation of teaching and learning,  the teacher transmits his knowledge of the subject (or, the knowledge he considers relevant) as an expert to a less educated group of students. The teacher is the one who is primarily active, while the students acquire the knowledge offered without communicating with each other. Their learning progress is examined regularly in tests designed by the teacher. This method is based on the assumption that it is possible for the teacher to determine what his students should know. The teacher assumes that the goals he or she sets can be achieved. For this purpose, the material to be transmitted is analyzed and subdivided into units that are to be transmitted to the students one by one (cf. the Instructional Design Theory by Gagné). In this process, the material gradually becomes more difficult. At the same time, this method is designed to match the learning ability of the average learner.

Comparison of constructivist and traditional classrooms

Seen from a purely hypothetical viewpoint, it would consequently be possible to classify this traditional teaching method as being derived from the philosophy of objectivism. However, it seems that there is no literature in which an author chooses a traditional teaching method due to an objectivistic conviction. Therefore, one can only argue that those who prefer such a traditional classroom structure can be assigned to objectivism because of the means and methods he or she chooses to apply.
As indicated before, there are some approaches to teaching that are based on objectivistic convictions. Among them are Gagné's Instructional Design Theory as well as behavioristic learning systems.

Instructional Design Theory
Behavioristic Learning Systems

The Problems of Traditional Teaching Methods

Traditional teaching methods can lead to a variety of problems. The focus on imitation, obedience, repetition and control often shown in these methods leads to a neglect of an individual's creative abilities in favor of skills that are purely mechanical and repetitive. An abandonment of this strict concentration on human intellect in favor of a holistic person that is to be encouraged, strengthened and motivated would immensely increase the person's abilities.
Furthermore, some schools and universities take the speed of learning of an average leaner as a basis for their teaching methods. However, repeated tests could not verify the assumption that the speed of learning is more or less the same for all learners. All individuals learn at a different rate. Furthermore, it seems that individuals are able to make astonishing progress under favorable conditions. Consequently, only a small part of the human learning ability is used in traditional teaching methods.
In traditional classes, learners strive to acquire the material offered by the teacher. At the same time, they try to estimate what the teacher expects of them and consequently put main emphasis on the respective topics when learning. This prevailing concentration on tests and the consequence that many learning activities are out of touch with reality can result in situations where the learner learns only selectively and forgets the knowledge he/she acquired very soon after the test or has difficulties applying it in new situations.

In contrast to the philosophy of constructivism, constructivistic approaches to teaching methods are still developing and not free of contradictions. Nevertheless, these approaches can be seen as an attempt to introduce new ways of teaching and tackle with the problems mentioned before in order to solve them.