Episode #4 of the course “Influential Psychologists Throughout History”
Jean Piaget was a French psychologist who studied cognitive development. In fact, he was the first psychologist to study this area systematically. He became interested in the subject while he was working at the Binet Institute developing French versions of English intelligence tests. He was interested in how the children tested gave varying wrong answers to questions. He believed that being able to study these wrong answers would help him learn the different thought processes between adults and children.
Before Piaget’s work, children were just considered less competent than adults. Piaget showed that in fact, children think very differently than adults do, which makes them seem incorrect in many ways. This cognitive theory had three basic parts. The first is the schema. Schemata are building blocks of intelligent behavior; they allow individuals to organize knowledge into “units.” Children develop schemata as they age, which allow them to process information faster and more efficiently. Schemata create a stored pattern of behavior, allowing the brain to exert less effort.
The second component is based on adaptation through assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration. Assimilation allows the child to use an existing schema to process a new object or new information. Accommodation occurs when the schema does not work and it needs to be changed to deal with that new object or information. Equilibration moves development along in leaps and bounds. Creating a disequilibrium forces the child to create new schemata, which is when learning occurs.
The third component is stages of development, which means that children are not ready to process new information until they hit specific learning stages. These stages often depend on age, but that is not the only determining factor.
Although Piaget did not specifically relate his findings to education, they have had a significant impact on teaching and learning. Discovery learning developed out of Piaget’s theories. Discovery learning is the notion that children learn best by doing and being active. This notion has transformed curricula across the world and encouraged teachers to facilitate learning instead of simply providing information.
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