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








Trends in Adult Education – Post 3 “Aha” Moment

Well I don’t think it will be a surprised to anyone to know that my “aha” moment was with the gender equality trend. Specifically, the neutral language. However, there was a quote in my article that I have not discussed yet that hit home for me. “A study carried out in the UK found that the gender of teachers had very little effect on the performance of either boys or girls” (OECD, 2014, p. 5). I wonder if this holds true for adult students?

As I often find myself being challenged as a female sailing instructor, I have just assumed that this is due to the fact that older students are used to seeing male instructors. As noted in my previous post I do not take this personally, but I view it as a challenge to better my teaching. However, do they get more or less out of my classes because I am a female? I have had sailing schools approach me with requests to teach for them specifically because I am female and they want to broaden their sailing student market and get more women involved in the sport. Maybe in this case using gender neutral language is not enough? Maybe having a same-sex instructor would bring more out of the female students?

I myself have decided to offer a Women in Wind sailing series this summer for women-only sailors here in Nelson. I know there is a market out there for it as I have specifically been asked to run it. But why? Why can we not have both sexes working together being taught by whichever sex but with the same outcome?

Well, now I know that I will have to keep digging further into this trend to see if I can make heads or tails of it. I am glad that I chose this trend to look at as it has really caused me to reflect on something that I have always known is there, but I’m not quite sure why it is there or if it will ever go away.

In the meantime, I will keep sailing along…


Photo credit:


OECD (n.d.) Trends Shaping Education 2015 Spotlight 7, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from:

Trends in Adult Education – Post 2 Implications

Alright, time to dive deeper into the two trends Andrea and I are focussing on: gender equality and gamification in the classroom.


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Gender Equality

“Education plays an important role in ensuring that women and men have the same opportunities in their personal and professional lives, through formal schooling, shaping attitudes and transforming behaviours” (OECD, n.d., para. 1).

Unfortunately, I learned about professional gender inequality when I was 16 and discovered that I was making less money than my younger, inexperienced, male counterpart. I was told that is just the way it is. Well that answer was not good enough for me so I approached my boss with a list of reasons outlining why I deserved more money and I was eventually granted the same salary as my male counterpart (not the salary that I actually deserved mind you).

This article indicates that inequalities are not part of who we are, they are taught to us through society and the perceived roles that men and women should perform.

“Flabbi and Tejada (2012) find that gender differences in field of study are not strongly related to expectations about labour market outcomes, as measure by wages and occupational segregation. They argue that girls and boys make different choices for a number of reasons, such as the historical predominance of men in manual occupations, potentially innate preferences, thinking of future family obligations, as well as stereotypical expectations at home and amongst peers and teachers.” (OECD, 2015 p. 8)

As you are aware, I am a female sailing instructor. Sailing is predominantly a male-dominated sport. I have been to yacht clubs that still have separate male and female entrances or rooms that are for the “men of the club” only. Interestingly, I have never viewed this as a personal attack. I have always thought it was “interesting” and that it then became a challenge for me to break through the gender barriers. So far I have managed to do so quite successfully and I am proud of my sailing achievements and my instructional abilities.


Photo credit:

One of my goals as an instructor is to make sailing accessible to whomever wants to try it. At the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, where I coached in 1997, I even went so far as to re-rig an entire boat for a little boy who had no hands and no feet as I was determined to have him experience the thrill of sailing on his own. I still have his personal thank you note in my drawer as a reminder that anyone can do anything with the right amount of help.

A big area of discussion for Andrea and I was the use of gender-neutral language. The definition of “gender” seems to be evolving on a daily basis. It used to just include male or female sex. However, now there are over 30 different names for people who identify themselves in different ways2. Andrea and I spent a lot of time discussing the different gender identities that we may encounter throughout our teaching and noted that we must keep our teaching language as neutral as possible.

My article notes that “Performance differences are driven by the fact that schools and societies foster different levels of self-confidence, motivation and interests for different subject areas among boys and girls […] these stereotypical differences can be overcome” (OECD, 2015). A way to overcome these stereotypical differences is to change our language. A big area for me to work on is ensuring that my courses are gender neutral and that the language that I use is also gender neutral. Now, if you have ever sailed before you know that sailing has a language of its own, so this part should not be too hard for me! However, ensuring that my students have equal opportunities to perform equal tasks (raising sails, weighing anchor, helming, navigating), can sometimes be tricky depending on my crew. This is especially a tricky area when I have a couple on board as they tend to gravitate towards their traditional spousal roles (the wife will make lunches in the galley while the husband helms and manages the sails). This may be the best division of labour on the boat, but I always make sure each person is adequately trained in every aspect of sailing a boat. You never know who may fall overboard!

Andrea shared with me an evaluation tool (questionnaire) where a teacher can check to see if their course is gender neutral ( As I work my way through the PIDP I plan to use this tool to make sure that my sailing courses remain gender neutral and accessible to all.


Photo credit: EdTechReview


I have been really intrigued about gamification and how to apply it to my sailing courses. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of apps or games out there designed specifically for sailing. Since reading this article I have managed to find a couple, however they are quite basic and I’m not sure I would recommend them to my students for learning.

However, I think there is definitely a way that I can include some form of gamification in my classroom. The idea of a jeopardy game is always a good way to go. Most students really enjoy this format and I could easily break down my lessons into different pieces (sailing terms, navigational aids, emergency situations, etc.).

I am glad that Andrea chose this trend as I think it is one that many teachers need to be aware of as it is not going anywhere anytime soon! In fact, the use of virtual reality and simulators would be ideal for sailing students and I could see this type of instruction taking off in the near future (such as with pilots).

Overall, there is a need for me to stay abreast of the changes in these two trends in adult education. As noted above, gender equality seems to be changing on a daily basis. Similarly, technology is an ever-evolving field as well. As I move through improving my teaching strategies I intend to stay well versed in any changes in these trends.




OECD (n.d.) Trends Shaping Education 2015 Spotlight 7, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from:

  1. Comprehensive List of LGBTQ+ Vocabulary Definitions. Retrieved from:


Trends in Adult Education – Post 1 Trends: Gamification & Gender Equality

For my BC Provincial Instructor Diploma Program (PIDP) Assignment #2, my partner Andrea and I have to discuss two trends in adult education. I have chosen to look at gender equality.

Gender Equality

marie_imageImage source: Marie Images

Gender equality [n]:Gender equality does not imply that women and men are the same, but that they have equal value and should be accorded equal treatment” (Cambridge English Dictionary).

The article that I have chosen Trends Shaping Education 2015 – Gender Equality highlights that there are “gender stereotypes that still influence children in their perception of which subjects they should find interesting and in which areas and activities they might excel” (OECD, 2015, p. 10). The fact is, our society has a perception of which roles men and women should perform and this in turn has entered our educational system and it causes children to determine at a fairly young age which disciplines they think are acceptable for them to pursue regardless of their individual strengths and interests.

I am by no means a feminist. I consider myself to be an individualist. An individualist is “a person who is independent and self-reliant” (Oxford Dictionary).  If you believe that you are going to be good at something or that you want to pursue something, do it!

As a sailing instructor, I have worked with many adults over the years and I have noticed slight differences between the learning styles and approaches of men and women. Men tend to be more confident and hands-on on the boat, while women tend to sit back and be more analytical. I have often wondered, is this due to self-confidence? Perceived physical strength? Societal gender roles? I look forward to diving further into this educational trend…



 Image source:

Andrea has chosen to look at game-based learning and how games can be incorporated into a learning environment.  Andrea’s article is entitled Analysis of Gamification in Education. You can find Andrea’s blog at

Gamification [n]: “the process of adding games or game-like elements to something (as a task) so as to encourage participation” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

The introduction of games to the learning environment is a way to diversify the method of delivery and a way to potentially increase student engagement. Gaming offers a safe environment for students to “fail” and “incorporating this ‘freedom to fail’ into classroom design is noted to be an effective dynamic in increasing student engagement” (Stott, p. 1). I found this aspect of gaming very interesting, as often the fear of failure is what holds most of us back. Also, gaming introduces ongoing feedback and self-assessments as the student can clearly see their progress as they complete tasks in the game.

Gamification is a new area to me in the world of sailing and I intent to explore this trend further through my students. I have begun to look for possible apps and online games that could help me with my sailing instruction and provide my students with some alternative learning resources.


Cambridge Business English Dictionary. (2017). Gender Equality. Cambridge University Press.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (2017). Gamification.

OECD (n.d.). Trends Shaping Education 2015 Spotlight 7, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from:

Oxford Dictionary. (2017). Individualist.

Stott, A & Neustaedter, C. (n.d.) Analysis of Gamification in Education Retrieved from: