ernstvgresting.jpgErnst von Glasersfeld, the European-born luminary of constructivist and cybernetic circles, was a lifelong champion for the notion that learning is anything but a passive act of absorbing information. He coined the term 'radical constructivism' to describe his own vision for a constructivist approach to education, psychology, and literature.

von Glasersfeld -who passed away in 2010 at the age of 83 - maintained that radical constructivism goes beyond merely saying that we create our own knowledge through interpretation, claiming furthermore that cognition itself is a tool for adaptation (rather than a means for recognizing objective truth). In other words, cognition is a distinctly subjective process, influenced by the totality of the learner's unique experience, as opposed to a strict, predictable, universal interpretation. Radical constructivism rejects the concept of ideal/essential/pure knowledge; meaning will always be created through personal interpretation.

Follows in the footsteps of Piaget and James Baldwin, von Glasersfeld focused on the psychology of adaptation. We learn what and how we do based on a need to organize the world as we personally experience it. His work is largely a reaction to the classical concept of objective (or ontological) reality, an ideal realm that is (according to constructivists) detached from the way we truly experience life. In his groundbreaking work, "Constructivism in Education" (1989), von Glasersfeld claims that "The revolutionary aspect of Constructivism lies in the assertion that knowledge cannot and need not be ‘true’ in the sense that it matches ontological reality, it only has to be ‘viable’ in the sense that it fits within the experiential constraints that limit the cognizing organism’s possibilities of acting and thinking." This model for how we perceive reality represents one of history's great philosophical turning points, and it has influenced (whether intentionally or otherwise) much of the pedagogical thought that has followed in the decades since publication.

EvG was also successful in bridging the gap between psychological and literary interpretation. Indeed, scholarly emphasis in the literary world has largely drifted away from the author's-intention-centric focus of centuries past towards recognition that meaning is primarily created by the reader. Even as far back as the late 1980's, he notes that "The students’ subjective interpretation of texts and teachers’ discourse, and thus the subjective view of linguistically presented problems is increasingly being taken into account in educational practice and research. Such a constructivist perspective has noteworthy consequences…"