The knowledge acquisition vs. participatory learning debate

The conceptual change as knowledge acquisition vs. participatory learning debate is one in which the lines between the two ideas are seemingly blurred. On the knowledge acquisition side the argument is tied to how people acquire knowledge by changing their underlying framework or overall approach to learning new material. Conceptual change as knowledge acquisition sits in the realm of paradigm shifts as discussed by Zirbel (2006). Theorists such as Piaget, Kuhn and Vygotsky have discussed that through the process of gaining new knowledge, whether through experimentation or having it being presented, one can either assimilate new information to the old ideas or completely reject their pre-conceptions in lieu of the new idea being presented (Vosniadou, Vamvakoussi, & Skopeliti, 2008) and (Vosniadou, Ioannides, Dimitrakopoulou, & Papademetriou, 2001). The approach to conceptual change in this domain is such that if the learning environment and instructional strategy by extension, appeals to the students’ own conceptual framework then they will experience dissatisfaction when presented with new information that challenges their existing beliefs.

On the other hand, Vosniadou (2007) discusses that mere systematic instruction by itself is inadequate to cause profound conceptual change. The approach to learning has to be one in which learners are engaged in activities that requires them to interact with peers and new information both within and outside of the classroom. According to Gorodetsky and Keiny (2002), conceptual change is not only a matter of presenting new information it is also dependent on the context in which it is presented. While the fruitfulness of the material being presented is important, the situation in which conceptual change is expected to happen must also be given a considerate amount of attention. Participatory learning is based on the idea that the act of taking an active role in one’s learning in and of itself is conceptual change. This approach to conceptual change suggests that as one interacts with the material and by extension their peers they are forced to undergo changes to their pre-existing concepts if, there is a disjoint between what they are interacting with and what they have previously believed.

On a personal note, I am not sure if I agree that the two are mutually exclusive of each other. I think that in the process of engaging in the context, taking an active role in one’s own learning and interacting with one’s peers not only is conceptual change effected by the act of knowledge acquisition is also included. In addition, there still remains the question of is it really conceptual change when the learner interacts with his/her peers or is it just accepting the group consensus just because everyone else did? Also, what if the member with the most authoritative approach to the group has a misconception? Does the possibility exist that the others might accept this as not only true but that their existing framework was wrong and as such undergo a conceptual based on faulty information?


Gorodestksy, M., & Keiny, S. (2002). Participative learning and conceptual change. In M. Limon & L. Mason (Eds.), Reconsidering conceptual change. Issues in theory and practice (pp. 149–163). Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Vosniadou, S. (2007). Conceptual change and education. Human Development, 50, 47–54. doi:10.1159/000097684

Vosniadou, S., Ioannides, C., Dimitrakopoulou, A., & Papademetriou, E. (2001). Designing learning environments to promote conceptual change in science. Learning and Instruction, 11, 381–419.

Vosniadou, S., Vamvakoussi, X., & Skopeliti, I. (2008). The framework theory approach to the problem of conceptual change. In S. Vosniadou (Ed.), International handbook of research on conceptual change (pp. 3–34).

Zirbel, E. L. (2006). Teaching to promote deep understanding and instigate conceptual change. Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (pp. 1–25).


One thought on “The knowledge acquisition vs. participatory learning debate

  1. …. am not sure if I agree that the two [knowledge acquisition and participatory learning views of conceptual change] are mutually exclusive of each other… I am feeling the same way, Nicole. I feel there must be a way for the two to intersect.

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