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Jean Piaget Theory of Learning with Death and legacy

Jean Piaget



Jean Piaget, born in the French zone of Switzerland. Eldest son of Arthur Piaget and Rebecca Jackson. His father was a leading professor of Medieval Literature at the University of Neuchâtel. Piaget was an early child who developed an early interest in Biology and the natural world, especially mollusks. At age 11, while studying at the Latino Institute in his hometown, he wrote a study referring to a certain species of albino sparrow and then wrote a treatise on Malacology during his average studies.

He graduated and received a doctorate in Biology at the University of his hometown in 1918. From 1919 he studied briefly and worked at the University of Zurich, where he published two works on Psychology that show the direction of his ideas, although later he crossed them out of teenage work. His interest in Psychoanalysis, which flourished at that time, seems to have begun there in the young Piaget.

He then moved to Grange-aux-Belles in France, where he taught at a children’s school run by Alfred Binet, creator of the Binet Intelligence Test, and with whom he had briefly studied at the University of Paris. While qualifying some instances of these intelligence tests, Piaget noted that young children consistently gave wrong answers to certain questions.

However, Piaget did not focus on the fact that the answers were wrong, but on the pattern of mistakes that older children and adults did not show. This led him to the theory that the cognitive process or thinking of young children is inherently different from that of adults (in the end it would come to propose a global theory of developmental stages, stating that individuals exhibit certain common patterns of cognition and differentiable in each period of its development).

In 1920 he participated in the improvement of the IQ Intelligence Test (Intelligence Quotient) invented by Stern, an important moment in the definition of his future activity, in which he detected “systematic errors” in the children’s responses.

Returned to Switzerland, he became director of the Rousseau Institute in Geneva. In 1923 he married Valentine Châtenay, with whom he had three children whom Piaget studied since childhood.

In 1955, Piaget created the International Center for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva, which he directed until his death in 1980

For Piaget, the principles of logic begin to develop before language and are generated through the baby’s sensory and motor actions in interaction with the environment. Piaget established a series of successive stages in the development of intelligence:

1. Stage of sensorimotor or practical intelligence, of elementary affective regulations and of the first external fixations of affectivity. This stage constitutes the period of the infant and lasts until the age of one year and a half or two years; It is prior to the development of language and thought itself.

2. Stage of intuitive intelligence, spontaneous interindividual feelings and social relationships of submission to adults. This stage covers from two to seven years. In it, preoperative thinking is born: the child can represent the movements without executing them; it is the time of symbolic play and egocentrism and, from the age of four, of intuitive thinking.

3. Stage of concrete intellectual operations, of moral and social feelings of cooperation and of the beginning of logic. This stage covers from seven to eleven-twelve years.

4. Stage of the abstract intellectual operations, of the formation of the personality and of the affective and intellectual insertion in the society of adults (adolescence). Although Piaget established, for each of these stages, the corresponding ages, it is not necessary to take such delimitations rigidly; the rhythm varies from one child to another and certain features of these stages may overlap at a certain time.

Years of training

After completing secondary education, Piaget would go to study at the University of Neuchâtel, obtaining a degree in Natural Sciences and taking a doctorate in 1918 with a thesis related to malacology.

After that, he would decide to study at the University of Zurich , where for a semester he studied and began to acquire interest in psychology from the works of Freud or Jung. He began working in psychology laboratories in that city and would even make two publications about it.

Jean Piaget’s Theory of Learning

What is the constructivist approach?

The constructivist approach, in its aspect of pedagogical current, is a certain way of understanding and explaining the ways in which we learn. Psychologists who start from this approach emphasize the figure of the apprentice as the agent that is ultimately the engine of their own  learning .

Parents, teachers and community members are, according to these authors, facilitators of the change that is taking place in the mind of the learner, but not the main piece. This is because, for the constructivists, people do not literally interpret what comes from the environment, either through their own nature or through the explanations of teachers and tutors. The constructivist theory of knowledge tells us about a perception of one’s own experiences that is always subject to the frames of interpretation of the “apprentice”.

That is to say: we are unable to objectively analyze the experiences we live in each moment, because we will always interpret them in the light of our previous knowledge. Learning is not the simple assimilation of information packages that arrive from outside, but is explained by a dynamic in which there is a link between new information and our old ideas structures. In this way, what we know is being built permanently .

Learning as reorganization

Why is it said that Piaget is constructivist? In general terms, because this author understands learning as a reorganization of the cognitive structures existing in each moment. That is to say: for him, the changes in our knowledge, those qualitative leaps that lead us to internalize new knowledge from our experience, are explained by a recombination that acts on the mental schemes that we have at hand as the Theory of theory shows us Piaget learning.

Like a building, it is not constructed by transforming a brick into a larger body, but it is built on a structure (or, what is the same, a certain placement of some pieces with others), learning, understood as a process of change that is being built, makes us go through different stages not because our mind changes in nature spontaneously with the passage of time, but because certain mental schemes vary in their relationships, they are organized differently as we grow and We are interacting with the environment. It is the relationships established between our ideas, and not their content, that transform our mind; At the same time, the relationships established between our ideas change their content.

Let’s give an example. For an 11-year-old child, the idea of ​​family equals his mental representation of his father and mother. However, there comes a point where his parents divorce and after a while he sees himself living with his mother and another person he doesn’t know. The fact that the components (father and mother of the child) have altered their relationships cast doubt on the most abstract idea in which they are ascribed ( family ).

Over time, it is possible that this reorganization affects the content of the idea “family” and makes it an even more abstract concept than before in which the mother’s new partner can accommodate. Thus, thanks to an experience (the separation of the parents and the incorporation into the daily life of a new person) seen in the light of the cognitive ideas and structures available (the idea that the family is the biological parents in interaction with many other thinking schemes) the “apprentice” has seen how his level of knowledge regarding personal relationships and the idea of ​​family has made a qualitative leap .

The concept of ‘scheme’

The concept of scheme is the term used by Piaget when referring to the type of cognitive organization existing between categories at a given time. It is something like the way in which some ideas are ordered and placed in relation to others.

Jean Piaget argues that a scheme is a concrete mental structure that can be transported and systematized. A scheme can be generated in many different degrees of abstraction. In the early stages of childhood, one of the first schemes is that of the ‘ permanent object’ , which allows the child to refer to objects that are not within their perceptual reach at that time. Time later, the child reaches the scheme of ‘ types of objects’ , through which he is able to group the different objects based on different “classes”, as well as understand the relationship that these classes have with others.

The idea of ​​”scheme” in Piaget is quite similar to the traditional idea of ​​’concept’, with the proviso that the Swiss refers to cognitive structures and mental operations, and not to perceptual classifications.

In addition to understanding learning as a process of constant organization of schemes, Piaget believes that it is the result of adaptation . According to Piaget’s Theory of Learning, learning is a process that only makes sense in situations of change. Therefore, learning is partly knowing how to adapt to these developments. This psychologist explains the dynamics of adaptation through two processes that we will see next: assimilation and accommodation .

Learning as adaptation by Jean Piaget

One of the fundamental ideas for Piaget’s Theory of Learning is the concept of human intelligence as a process of a biological nature . The Swiss maintains that man is a living organism that presents itself to a physical environment already endowed with a biological and genetic inheritance that influences the processing of information from abroad. Biological structures determine what we are able to perceive or understand, but at the same time they are what make our learning possible.

With a marked influence of the ideas associated with  Darwinism , Jean Piaget builds, with his Learning Theory, a model that would be strongly controversial. Thus, he describes the mind of human organisms as the result of two “stable functions”: the organization , whose principles we have already seen, and  adaptation , which is the process of adjustment by which the knowledge of the individual and the information that he Arrives from the environment adapt to each other. In turn, within the dynamics of adaptation two processes operate: assimilation and accommodation.

1. Assimilation

The assimilation refers to the way in which an organism faces an external stimulus based on their present organization laws. According to this principle of adaptation in learning, external stimuli, ideas or objects are always assimilated by some pre-existing mental scheme in the individual.

In other words, assimilation causes an experience to be perceived in the light of a previously organized “mental structure.” For example, a person with  low self-esteem can attribute a congratulation for their work to a way of expressing pity for him.

2. Accommodation

The  accommodation , on the other hand, involves a modification in the present organization in response to the demands of the environment. Where there are new stimuli that compromise the internal coherence of the scheme too much, there is accommodation. It is a process opposed to assimilation.

3. Balancing

It is in this way that, through assimilation and accommodation, we are able to cognitively restructure our learning during each stage of development. These two invariant mechanisms interact with each other in what is known as the balancing process . Balance can be understood as a process of regulation that governs the relationship between assimilation and accommodation.

The balancing process

Although assimilation and accommodation are stable functions as long as they occur throughout the evolutionary process of the human being, the relationship between them does vary. Thus,  cognitive and intellectual evolution maintains a close relationship with the evolution of the assimilation-accommodation relationship  .

Piaget describes the process of balancing between assimilation and accommodation as the result of three levels of increasing complexity:

  1. The balance is established based on the schemas of the subject and the stimuli of the environment.
  2. The balance is established between the person’s own schemes.
  3. The balance becomes a hierarchical integration of different schemes.

However, with the concept of equilibrium a new question is incorporated into the Piagetian Learning Theory: what happens when the temporal equilibrium of any of these three levels is altered? That is, when there is a contradiction between their own and external schemes, or between their own schemes.

As Piaget points out in his Learning Theory, in this case there is a cognitive conflict , and this is when the previous cognitive balance is broken. The human being, who constantly pursues the achievement of a balance, tries to find answers, asking more and more questions and investigating on his own, until he reaches the point of knowledge that restores him .

Linking with child psychology

During that same year 1919 Piaget would move to Paris as a professor of psychology and philosophy at the Sorbonne, knowing and working with many important psychologists such as Binet or Bleuler . He would also go to work in a school run by Binet and Simón as a teacher, in Grange-aux-Belles. There he would begin to notice differences between the response patterns of adults and children, something that would lead him to think about the existence of different processes attributable to certain evolutionary moments.

A short time later, in 1920, he would be part of the group that perfected the Stern intelligence test, also detecting errors consisting of children’s responses. Together with Theodore Simon, he would begin to explore children’s intelligence and reasoning .

During 1921 he would publish a first article on intelligence, which would cause him to receive an offer to work as director of the Rousseau Institute in Geneva. With this offer, in which something that led him to return to his home country. From his position he would elaborate various works in which reasoning, thinking or children’s language worked. His academic participation continued to grow, also attending the Congress of Psychoanalysis in Berlin in 1922 (where he would meet Freud personally).

In 1923 he married Valentine Châteney, having three children with her. His paternity would be important not only on a personal level but also on a professional level , since it would be the observation and analysis of the growth and development of his children what (together with the influence of various previous authors and the realization of the different studies mentioned above) , would lead him to the elaboration of his best known work: the cognitive-evolutionary theory in which he will expose the different stages of development and the constructivist theory.

In 1925 he would work as a professor of philosophy at the University of his hometown, despite continuing at the Rousseau Institute. Also, with his wife he would observe and analyze the development of their children . During 1929 he would return to Geneva to work at the university of that city as a professor of psychology and history of science. Later it would happen to the University of Lausanne. While he was a professor of psychology and sociology in the latter, in 1936 he would be appointed director of the UNESCO International Bureau of Education. In 1940 he would begin to study aspects such as perception, working aspects such as the development of spatial perception.

By 1950 Piaget would carry out the elaboration of genetic epistemology, another of his great contributions, in which he worked on the cognitive structures and the evolutionary and historical changes of the consciousness-environment relationship . This contribution would lead to the generation of the cognitive scheme concept and its constructivist theory in which it valued the biology-environment relationship in thought formation.

Five years later he founded and would be appointed director of the International Center for Genetic Epistemology, a position he would hold until his death. Piaget would receive numerous honorary degrees and doctorates throughout his life, as well as various international awards for his scientific contributions.

Death and legacy of Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget died at the age of 84 on September 16, 1980, in Geneva, after about ten days hospitalized. His death is an event of great relevance, his legacy and his contribution to psychology being one of the most extensive and relevant of the last century .

His theories on child development have influenced a large number of well-known authors such as Bruner, Bandura, Ausubel or Erikson, and they are still valued and taken into account at a theoretical level. He especially emphasizes the importance of his cognitive-evolutionary theory, about the development of cognitive abilities and in which he tells us about the different stages of development. However, this is not the only field in which he worked but he also made various contributions in fields such as sociology, philosophy or even biology.

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