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Jerome Seymour Bruner

Jerome Seymour Bruner (1915-2016)

Jerome Seymour Bruner

Jerome Seymour Bruner

Jerome Seymour Bruner was born on October 1, 1915 in New York, United States. He is an American psychologist who made important contributions to cognitive psychology and learning theories within the field of educational psychology. He was born into a wealthy Jewish family. His father had a certain social position and worried about offering him a careful education and also providing a special fund to finance his university studies. Bruner entered Duke University at age 16 and graduated in 1937.

He continued his studies at Harvard University where he obtained a PhD in psychology in 1941. During World War II he enlisted in the army, working in the psychology department of the barracks. At the end of the war he returned to Harvard as a professor and researcher; He published interesting works on the needs of perception, concluding that values ​​and needs determine human perceptions. His studies in the field of evolutionary psychology and social psychology were focused on generating changes in education that allowed to overcome the reductionist, mechanistic models of memory learning centered on the figure of the teacher, and that prevented the development of the intellectual potentialities of students. These models were strongly linked to behaviorists,

In 1960 he founded the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard University. In the same year he writes The Education Process, a book that had a strong impact on the political formation of the United States and influenced the thinking and orientation of a good part of the teaching staff.

In 1963 he received the award of the psychology association; He was part of the team of researchers of the MACOS project, which sought to develop a curriculum on behavioral sciences.

In 1970 he joined the team of professors at the University of Oxford until 1980, conducting research on language acquisition in children.

In 1974 he won the CIBA Gold Medal for original and exceptional research, in 1987 he won the Balzan Prize for contributions to the understanding of the human mind. He conducted important studies on how poverty severely affected the teaching-learning process and reduced the chances of overcoming those who lived in the miserable ghettos of large American cities.

he three learning models of Jerome Bruner

Like many other researchers engaged in cognitive psychology, Jerome Bruner spent a lot of time studying the way we learn during our first years of life . This led him to develop a theory about three basic ways to represent the reality that, at the same time, are three ways to learn based on our experiences. It is the enactive model , the iconic model and the symbolic model .

According to Bruner, these models or learning modes are presented in a staggered way, one after the other following an order that goes from the most physical and related to the immediately accessible to the symbolic and abstract. It is a theory of learning that is very inspired by the work of Jean Piaget and his proposals about the stages of cognitive development .

The similarities between the ideas of Jerome Bruner and those of Piaget do not end there, since in both theories learning is understood as a process in which the consolidation of certain learning allows things to be learned later that could not be understood before.

1. Enactive model

The enactive model proposed by Bruner is the mode of learning that appears first, since it is based on something we do from the first days of life: physical action , on the broader meaning of the term. In this, the interaction with the environment serves as the basis for acting representation, that is, the processing of information about what we have nearby that comes to us through the senses.

Thus, in Jerome Bruner’s enactive model, learning takes place through imitation, manipulation of objects, dancing and acting, etc. It is a learning mode comparable to the sensorimotor stage of Piaget. Once certain learning is consolidated through this mode, the iconic model appears .

2. Iconic model

The iconic mode of learning is based on the use of drawings and images in general that can be used to provide information about something beyond themselves. Examples of learning based on the iconic model are the memorization of countries and capitals by observing a map, the memorization of different animal species by viewing photographs, or drawings or films, etc.

For Jerome Bruner, the iconic mode of learning represents the transition from concrete to abstract , and therefore presents characteristics that belong to these two dimensions.

3. Symbolic model

The symbolic model is based on the use of language, whether spoken or written . Since language is the most complex symbolic system that exists, it is through this learning model that the contents and processes related to the abstract are accessed.

Although the symbolic model is the last to appear, Jerome Bruner emphasizes that the other two continue to occur when learned in this way , although they have lost much of their prominence. For example, to learn the movement patterns of a dance we will have to resort to the enactive mode regardless of our age, and the same will happen if we want to memorize the parts of the human brain.

Learning according to Jerome Bruner

Beyond the existence of these learning modes, Bruner has also held a particular vision of what  learning is in general . Unlike the traditional conception of what learning is, which equates it to the almost literal memorization of contents that are “stored” in the minds of students and learners, Jerome Bruner understands learning as a process in which who learns It has an active role .

Starting from a constructivist approach, Jerome Bruner understands that the source of learning is  intrinsic motivation , curiosity and, in general, all that generates interest in the apprentice.

Thus, for Jerome Bruner, learning is not so much the result of a series of actions as a continuous process that is based on the way in which the individual classifies the new information that is coming to him to create a meaningful whole. The success of grouping pieces of knowledge and classifying them effectively will determine if learning is consolidated and serves as a springboard to other types of learning or not.

The role of teachers and tutors

Although Jerome Bruner pointed out that the apprentice has an active role in learning, he also placed a lot of emphasis on the social context and, specifically, on the role of those who supervise this learning . Bruner, as Vygotsky did  , argues that one does not learn individually but within a social context, that leads him to the conclusion that there is no learning without the help of others, be they teachers, parents, friends with more experience , etc.

The role of these facilitators is to act as guarantors of a guided discovery whose engine is the curiosity of the apprentices . In other words, they must put into play all the means so that the apprentice can develop his interests and obtain practice and knowledge in return. This is the basic idea of scaffolding .

That is why it is not surprising that, like other education psychologists such as John Dewey, Bruner proposed that schools should be places that give way to the natural curiosity of students, offering them ways to learn through inquiry and the possibility of developing their interests thanks to the participation of third parties that guide and act as referents.

The spiral curriculum

Jerome Bruner’s research has led him to propose a spiral educational curriculum , in which the contents are reviewed periodically so that the contents already learned are reconsolidated in the light of the new information available. 

Bruner’s spiral curriculum captures graphically what he understands by learning: the constant reformulation of what has been internalized to make it richer and more nuanced as several experiences are lived.

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