Volume 2, 1998
Raf Vanderstraeten, Gert Biesta
Constructivism, Educational Research, and John Dewey
Schools are expected to transmit knowledge to younger generations. They are, however, also increasingly criticized for distributing socalled inert knowledge, i.e., knowledge that is accessed only in a restricted set of contexts even though it is applicable to a wide variety of domains. The causes of limited knowledge transfer are mostly attributed to the disembeddedness of learning situations in schools. Instructional procedures that result in learning in the sense of being able to recall relevant information provide no guarantee that people will spontaneously use it later. "Authentic learning," acquiring knowledge in the contexts that (will) give this knowledge its meaning, is now being presented as an alternative. Underpinning these reform proposals is not only a (growing) concern with efficiency, but is also a new epistemological theory, labelled as constructivism. This paper will, first, focus on the layout of and diverging perspectives within recent constructivist research in education. Next, the epistemological approach of John Dewey will be discussed, which takes as its starting point the relation of knowledge to action. Finally, we will indicate what a Deweyan approach might add to the constructivist research in education.