Jean Piaget (1896 - 1980)

sgi_cube.gif Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget was born in Switzerland and trained as a zoologist and, as such, was particularly interested in how animals adapt to their environment. This forms the context in which he became involved in the study of human intelligence.

Piaget believed children were active and intelligent learners who expected the world to make sense. He viewed the child as isolated (Greig, in press) who develops within himself and upon the environment. Piaget regarded knowledge as a process rather than a state, seeing it as a "relationship between the knower and the known" (Miller 1993:p. 36) with what is known changing as and when the knower does. The child tries to adapt to the world around him by assimilation (what is already known), accommodation (adjusting to what is now known), equilibration (the balance of the two) and schemas (mental and physical). Piaget regarded a schema to be a kind of mental structure that enabled an organism to adapt to the environment.

Developmental stages were prominent in Piaget’s theory, regarding cognitive development as proceeding through a sequence of stages which are progressive and involved qualitative structural changes.

Piaget's Developmental Stages
AGE IN YEARS 0 - 2 2 - 7 7 - 11 11+
STAGE sensori-motor pre-operational concrete operation formal operation

To cope with the physical world, children shape the world and are shaped by it through building schemas to which they assimilate new knowledge. Piaget regarded a schema to be a kind of mental structure that enabled an organism to adapt to the environment. People strive towards achieving equilibrium in their learning by balancing between assimilation and accommodation. It is a dynamic state and reflects the child’s ability to organise and relate. Piaget’s key concept of egocentrism (dominating in pre-school children) is an inability to decentre and take account of other people’s point of view. Piaget saw particular sorts of social experiences as combining to overcome this egocentrism. Doise and Mugny (1984) cited in Littleton (1995) using Piaget’s classic conservation tasks, found experiences of socio-cognitive conflict played a significant role in children’s cognitive development.

Among Piaget’s theory strengths are:

Over the past 15 years scholars working within the Piagetian framework have developed a model relating collaboration to cognitive development. Research based on the Piagetian framework, in which the mechanism promoting development is "cognitive conflict" or "sociocognitive conflict" is a highly effective means of inducting cognitive development (Tudge, 1990).

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