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Social constructivism (or socioculturalism) posits that the creation of knowledge cannot be separated from the social environment in which it is formed. While cognitive constructivists are concerned with understanding mental representations, social constructivists are more concerned with the ways in which knowledge is constructed through social interaction.

The emphasis within this paradigm is on human relationships and on learning through participation (activity) in social contexts (communities). The overall purpose of education is for learners to co-create knowledge and form identities. Learning is situated and occurs continuously through collaboration between the person and the social context. It involves more than just intellectual aspects; it also involves knowing oneself (constructing identity) and enculturation – picking up the jargon, behaviour, and norms of a new social group, and adopting its belief systems to become a member of the culture.

Please Note: We have grouped social constructivism and socioculturalism into one paradigm, however they have slight differences in focus. Social constructivists focus more on how learning is facilitated through social interaction, whereas socioculturalists focus on knowledge creation as a collective process.

Key Principles

  • Purpose of education is to foster critical reflection and informed action
  • Learning involves a shift in how one sees and approaches the world and their actions upon it
  • Emphasis is on equity and social justice
  • Learner-teacher distinction is minimized
  • Learners are agents of change

Key Theorists

Paulo Freire, 1921-1997

Freire was a Brazilian philosopher most known for his philosophy and his practice of critical pedagogy. Freire’s goal was to eradicate illiteracy among people from previously colonized countries and continents. His ideas, life, and work served to ameliorate the living conditions of oppressed people.

Critical pedagogy critiques the dominant banking model of education where the teacher is the expert and the learner is the passive recipient of deposits of knowledge. He argued that the banking model reproduces existing knowledge, and maintains the status quo of social hierarchies and existing power relations. Critical pedagogy positions learners as participants in knowledge creation, and thus education as transformative. Learners are empowered to see the social world differently and through an ethical lens, so that they will challenge and change the status quo as agents of change.

bell hooks, 1952-2021

bell hooks was an American teacher, a theorist, an activist, and a cultural critic. She was concerned with achieving freedom through education and transcending racial, sexual, and class boundaries in the classroom. Hooks proposed an engaged pedagogy toward freedom, self-actualization, and students’/teachers’ empowerment.

Engaged pedagogy emphasizes the experience of oppression, which can be either of victimization or of resistance, in the learning process. Hooks argues that experience can be a way to know and can inform how we know what we know. Engaged pedagogy asks teachers to integrate the public and private parts of life and share them with students. Ultimately, the student and teacher should strive to participate in a process that connects their lives and empowers them to live deeply.

Concepts & Practices in Health Professions Education

Interprofessional education (IPE)

The goal of IPE is for learners and clinicians from different health professions to learn with, from, and about one another, with the goal of improving collaborative practice and ultimately patient care. This necessitates a questioning of traditional hierarchical structures and unpacking of power relations between professions in order for real change to occur.


  • Freire P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, translated by MB Ramos, introduction by D Macedo. 30th Anniversary Edition. London: Continuum; 2007.
  • Kumagai AK, Naidu T. Reflection, dialogue, and the possibilities of space. Academic Medicine. 2015;90(3):283-8.
  • Paradis E, Whitehead CR. Louder than words: power and conflict in interprofessional education articles, 1954-2013. Medical Education. 2015;49(4):399-407.
  • For further reading, see:
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