Constructivism and the yachtsman…

Sea Cadets Kate Langhorne and Vikas Memhi sail a 420 sail boat off the coast of CFB Kingson during the Advanced Sail Course. They are among 20 top young sailors from across Canada to be selected for the intense summer training program. (Sgt Kev Parle).

Photo credit: Esprit de corps magazine


For my learning theory essay I will be looking at constructivism. I will define and describe this learning theory as well as briefly discuss the founding theorists for constructivism. I will then discuss the role of the learner and the role of the instructor, followed by three classroom examples of how I view constructivism working in my sailing courses.

Learning Theory Highlights

“Constructivism is less a single theory of learning than a collection of perspectives all of which share the common assumption that learning is how people make sense of their experience—learning is the construction of meaning from experience” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p. 36). This learning theory resonates with me as I learn best through doing. I am a self-motivated student or a self-directed learner (SDL). Constructivism “is a humanistic, learner-centred practice that assists adult learning in reflecting on their experience in order to construct new knowledge” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 9). Constructivism is a newer learning theory and draws from theorists such as Jean Piaget, John Dewey, and Lev Vygotsky.

Why I selected this Theory

As noted above, constructivism is learning through experience. The learning is in the hands of the learner and is facilitated by an instructor. This is how I conduct my sailing courses. I never touch the helm when I am teaching. I allow my students to learn and fail as needed and I facilitate their learning environment and offer different scenarios for them to use their skills. Truthfully, when it comes to sailing, I am constantly learning through trying different experiences as well. Either the weather is different, the crew is different, or the boat is different.

Overall, I would say that I am a very hands-on person. I am tactile. I find many of my students are as well. Sailing provides an environment of on-the-spot learning and experimentation for students. Jean Piaget was the theorist who primarily looked at constructivism through the lens of experience and experimentation with others. This is key in my sailing courses as there are so many factors that contribute to my students’ experiences on the water and shape what they learn. In turn, I could argue that I am also in the role of a student as I learn how to adapt my teaching styles from experiences and feedback provided by my students. Likewise, the students will experience different things depending on who they are learning with and what the environment is during their course.

Role of the Learner  

The learner plays a big role in constructivism. In fact, the responsibility of learning a task is placed on the student and is reflected through their ability to repeat the task. According to John Dewey, “An educative experience, […], is an experience in which we make a connection between what we do to things and what happens to them or us in consequence” (Soltis, para. 12). Likewise, Dewey “believed that it is only through experience that man learns about the world and only by the use of his experience that man can maintain and better himself in the world” (Soltis, para. 13).

Self-reflection, and critical self-reflection, play a key role in constructivism. The learner must reflect on what they have experienced and try to apply that new skill in other situations. As Lev Vignosty believed, “the teachers and students collaborate in learning and practicing four key skills: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. The teacher’s role in the process is reduced over time” (McLoed, 2014, para. 60). This is a clear example of how the teacher removes him/herself from a teaching situation in order for the students to continue to explore the learning on their own. The students past experiences and knowledge also play a big role in how they will learn. For example, if I have a student who grew up with a cottage on a lake paddling canoes in the summer, he may have some idea of how the weather affects your experience out on the water while sailing. However, if I have a student who recently immigrated to Canada and who does not know how to swim, he may have a harder time grasping how to become confident out on the water (and I have taught a lot of students who do not know how to swim!).

Role of the Instructor

As noted above, the instructor plays the role of a facilitator. The instructor is there to provide guidance and support; however the students are responsible for taking the steps necessary and completing the work. However, the teacher must acknowledge the needs of the learners. “Piaget’s theory of constructivism impacts learning curriculum because teachers have to make a curriculum plan which enhances their students’ logical and conceptual growth. Teachers must put emphasis on the significant role that experiences—or connections with the adjoining atmosphere—play in student education.” (Unknown, 2016, para. 2).

The instructor must be a sort of coach or mentor for the students and provide them with the tools they need to thrive, without telling them what to do. The students must have choices. Therefore, the teacher must engage the students and challenge them, all while providing them with the tools they need to succeed and overcome any difficulties.

 Three Classroom Examples

  1. Knots

A big part of sailing is being able to tie knots. If you cannot tie a proper knot, you may not find your boat at the dock the next day! Knots are generally a fun and entertaining way to spend a couple of hours with the students. I generally teach them the basic “essential” sailing knots (eight knot, reef knot, bowline, etc.), then we practice. We first practice in the classroom with a special board that I have which has a variety of pulleys and cleats on it. Then, as we move out onto the boats, I ask the students to demonstrate the knots in a variety of places on the boat. Throughout the lessons I will ask them to untie and re-tie knots, as well as provide me with alternate knots to be used in certain situations. This is a way for me to assess their learning, and a way for them to brainstorm new ways to use the skills they just acquired.

  1. Points of Sail

Another aspect of sailing that requires constant “thinking” would be the points of sail. Let’s face it, the wind never comes from where we want it to! The wind is a living thing. It is always moving, and as such, the students always have to be aware of where it is and how to adjust their sails. There are 5 main points of sail (for each tack), and the students need to adjust the sails accordingly for each one. On a white board in a classroom where the wind is “steady”, this is easy. Get out on the water and get too close to land you will all of a sudden have to deal with the mountain effect. Or maybe there is a gust. Or a squall. Or a lull. The students have to constantly be aware of where the wind is. As the instructor, I give them tips on how to read their sails, but then I leave it up to them to feel if the boat is moving the way it should.

  1. Anchoring

Anchoring is another area of trial and error. I teach the students how to read charts and how to identify safe anchorages. However, they may arrive at an anchorage and find there are other boats there. Then what? What if the wind shifts around and you are no longer protected? What do you do? Or worse, what happens if your anchor loses its grip? All of these scenarios are taught and practiced as much as possible, but until the students are out there getting their hands wet, they will not know how well one response will work over another. Again, they need to learn through doing.


In summary, I find that constructivism is the most pertinent learning theory for my trade and my experience. I learn new things through doing on a daily basis. My students learn things through doing and I simply guide them to the best of my abilities and provide support when they need it. I provide them with a safe place to learn and fail. I try to better myself with each new course I teach so that the next course can be better than the last.





Author Unknown. (2016). Piaget’s Theory of Constructivism. Retrieved from

Fenwick, T. (2001). Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives. Information Series No. 385.

McLeod, S. (2014). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from

Merriam, S. and Bierema, L. (2014). Adult Learning Linking Theory and Practice. Traditional Learning Theories.

Soltis, J. (ND). John Dewey (1859—1952) – Experience and Reflective Thinking, Learning, School and Life, Democracy and Education. Retrieved from








Stages of Memory: Encoding, Storage and Retrieval


  1. Evidence of reliability of the article

The article that I have chosen for my PIDP 3100 Assignment 3 is entitled Stages of Memory: Encoding, Storage and Retrieval by author Saul McLeod and was published to his website in 2013. McLeod provides a detailed background of his education and experience which I found to lead credibility to his article. He also notes that he receives 3,000,000 visitors to his site and there are several discussion threads on his website where people are providing feedback, thanks and opinions about his articles. Also, McLeod provides links to the sources that he quotes in his article and I reviewed them and found them to be accurate and relevant.

McLeod notes that his intended audience is A-level psychology students from the UK, but that he is starting to write articles for a broader audience. McLeod notes that he now has a lot of visitors from the US visiting his site.

For these reasons, I believe that this is a reliable article to reference for this assignment.

  1. Summarize the principle or principles described in the article

“Memory is essential to all our lives. Without a memory of the past we cannot operate in the present or think about the future… Without memory we could not learn anything” (McLeod, 2013, para. 2). The principle of this article is that we are presented with a multitude of information in various formats and that our brain processes and retains this information using different means. Broken down to its simplest terms, the stages for memory are: encoding, storage, retrieval.



McLeod uses an excellent example of why our memory must encode messages: “when information comes into our memory system (from sensory input), it needs to be changed into a form that the system can cope with, so that it can be stored.  Think of this as similar to changing your money into a different currency when you travel from one country to another” (McLeod, 2013, para. 5). The Human Memory notes that “encoding is the crucial first step to creating a new memory” (Mastin, n.d., para 1). In other words, if we are unable to encode what we see, experience, taste or feel, then we will not create a memory of it.

There are three main ways that a memory can be encoded: visual (picture), acoustic (sound) or semantic (meaning). McLeod indicates that acoustic and visual are the principle encoding methods of short-term memory storage and semantic appears to be the principle encoding method for long-term memory storage.

Short-term memory (STM) storage is defined as “a system for temporarily storing and managing information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Short-term memory is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information-processing functions such as encoding, storing, and retrieving data” (, n.d., para 1).

Long-term memory (LTM) “refers to the storage of information over an extended period. If you can remember something that happened more than just a few moment ago whether it occurred just hours ago or decades earlier, then it is a long-term memory” (Cherry, 2016, para. 1).



McLeod notes that “the way we store information affects the way we retrieve it” (McLeod, 2013, para. 10). This relates to STM and LTM storage (referenced above). Previous studies conducted by American psychologist George Miller (1956) indicated that perhaps adults could only store 5-7 pieces of information in our STM. However, McLeod notes that there was no reference to the amount of each piece of information and that we may be able to store more information if we use “chunking”. Chunking “is a term referring to the process of taking individual pieces of information (chunks) and grouping them into larger units. By grouping each piece into a large whole, you can improve the amount of information you can remember” (Cherry, 2016, para. 2). STM is believed to only last about 30 seconds while LTM can last a lifetime.



 McLeod notes that there is a distinct difference between STM and LTM which becomes very clear during the retrieval stage. STM is generally recalled sequentially. In other words, “if a group of participants are given a list of words to remember, and then asked to recall the fourth word on the list, participants go through the list in the order they heard it in order to retrieve the information” (McLeod, 2013, para 15). However, LTM storage is retrieved by association. “This is why you can remember what you went upstairs for if you go back to the room where you first thought about it” (McLeod, 2013, para. 16).

McLeod notes that organizing information is the best way to aid in its retrieval. You can organize things sequentially, by chunking it, or by associating it to something else.



McLeod looks at various experiments that have been conducted in relation to memory and their flaws. Generally, these experiments take place in laboratories, however their outcomes are generalized. Meaning that if all things remained the same in a true-to-life scenario, then the same outcome would be expected. Often, however, participants are removed from their usual surroundings and are then asked to perform tasks. Is it logical to expect them to have the same reactions or outcomes if they were in their familiar surroundings? Furthermore, McLeod notes that the people in these studies are often asked to remember items that they would never try to remember in the first place (random unrelated items in a specific order). McLeod concludes that “the artificiality of many experiments has led some researchers to question whether their findings can be generalized to real life.  As a result, many memory experiments have been criticized for having low ecological validity” (McLeod, 2013, para. 22).


  1. Describe the applicability of the principle to your practice.

 As wonderful as sailing is, it is also an extremely frustrating sport for some people. Every little piece of equipment has a specific name. “No, that is not a rope. It is a halyard. No, that is not a bumper. It is a fender.” I am constantly correcting my students on the terminology that they use on the boats in an effort to teach them the traditional methods of sailing.

Most people would consider me a purist when it comes to sailing. I do not really know how to use a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit on a boat, but I can plot a course on a chart faster than you can yell “gybe”! I take pride in knowing some of the more traditional methods of sailing and I try to impart those on my students. This is where memory plays a big role.

I generally use chunking for my students when I am teaching. I have acronyms, synonyms, and songs to help everyone remember bits and pieces. But, not everyone learns the same way, and so it is important for me to be aware of how memory and retention work. This is why I chose this article. For example, the safety gear required on a vessel between 8-10 m uses the acronym FLAPMESH (flares, light, anchor, PFD, manual bailer, extinguisher, sound signaling device, heaving line). Whenever I teach students about their safety gear, I use this acronym as a method to help them remember the specific items that are required. However, I also provide them with a copy of the Safe Boating Guide which contains illustrations and more written material that they can memorize if they wish.

I also use visual cues and stories for students when we are out on the boats. On the foresail, you have two pieces of yarn called ticklers. When the sail is perfect, the ticklers are happy and they leave the sail alone (they fly straight back). When you are too close to the wind, the tickler closest to you starts to dance as it wants to be back with its partner. When you are too far from the wind, the tickler behind the sail starts to dance as now he wants to be back with his partner. Keeping your ticklers happy is important in making sure that you are on your proper heading and sailing the boat in the most efficient manner.

One of the most trying lessons for students is usually the Crew Overboard (COB) procedure. This is a very high stress time for people. If someone has fallen off of your boat it is possible that they are injured, unconscious, or unable to swim. For a COB maneuver, I teach a simple method called the “Triangle” method. I first introduce this method to the students on a whiteboard or chalkboard where I show them all the various points of sail and how to complete the triangle method the exact same way every time. In this case, I am using repetition to help the students memorize this method. Regardless of which point of sail you are on and which tack, you always move to a beam reach. From there you count 10 seconds and tack to a broad reach. When the person in the water is abeam, you luff the foresail and approach them to leeward. You have your ladder down, boathook out, heaving line ready and then you luff your mainsail. Voila! You’ve recovered them safely!

Obviously, these lessons are more complicated in real life, but having the students associate, repeat or use acronyms to recall information greatly enhances their success in the course. I also use flashcards for terminology and I have a set of drawings with fill in the blanks for boat parts and rigging which the students also enjoy. I usually provide these as alternative learning means for the students for evening or weekend work outside of the classroom.

Overall, the article that I used has helped me to understand the basic elements of memory retention and recall. The idea of organizing information is of interest to me and I will work to organize my course lectures into more practical groupings of information for the students so they can retain it better and recall it more readily. As always, I will endeavor to introduce and utilize different methods of retention for the students to they can learn in whichever way suits them best.



Author Unknown. (n.d.). Definition of Short-Term Memory. Retrieved from

Cherry, K. (2016). What is Long-Term Memory? Retrieved from

Cherry, K. (2016). What is Chunking and How Can It Improve Your Memory? Retrieved from

Mastin, L. (n.d.). Memory Encoding. Retrieved from

McLeod, S. A. (2013). Stages of Memory – Encoding Storage and Retrieval. Retrieved from

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63 (2): 81–97.