Piaget’s Theory of Learning
Jean Piaget was primarily interested in how knowledge developed in human organisms. Cognitive structuring of the knowledge was fundamental in his theory. According to his theory, cognitive structures are patterns of physical or mental action that underlie specific acts of intelligence and correspond to stages of child development. He has integrated both behavior and cognitive aspects in one developmental theory. In his theory he put forward four primary developmental stages. They are sensorimotor, preoperations, concrete operations, and formal operations. In the sensorimotor stage (0-2 years), intelligence takes the form of motor actions. Intelligence in the preoperation period (3-7 years) is intuitive in nature. The cognitive structure during the concrete operational stage (8-11 years) is logical but depends upon concrete referents. In the final stage of formal operations (12-15 years), thinking involves abstractions. (Cameron, 2002)
When it comes to the educational reflections of his theory, Paiget sees the child as “continually interacting with the world around him/her solving problems that are presented by the environment” and learning occurs through taking action to solve the problems. Moreover, the knowledge that results from these actions is not imitated or from birth, but “actively constructed” by the child. In this way thought is seen as deriving from action; action is internalized, or carried out mentally in the imagination, and in this way thinking develops. For Piaget, action should be praised as fundamental to cognitive development, and development is the result of two ways, which are assimilation and accommodation. When the action occurs without causing any change in the child assimilation happens; on the contrary, when the child adjusts himself to the environment in some ways, accommodation is involved. Both of these adaptive processes occur together, despite they are very different; they are initially adaptive processes of behavior, but become processes of thinking. Cognitive development consists of a constant effort to adapt to the environment in terms of assimilation and accommodation. Mclaughlin (1992) reports that “Accommodation is an important idea that has been taken into second language learning under the label ”restructuring” used to refer to the re-organization of mental representations of a language. In this sense, Piaget's theory is similar in nature to other constructivist perspectives of learning.
From a Piagetian viewpoint, a child’s thinking develops as gradual growth of knowledge and intellectual skills towards a final stage of formal, logical thinking.( Cameron, 2002) Thoroughly, according to his notion of discrete stages and the idea that children cannot do certain things if they have not yet “reached” that stage should be considered as well. For, children cannot achieve to perform some cognitive or physical actions until maturation. Consequently, learning materials and activities should involve the appropriate level of motor or mental operations for a child of given age; asking students to perform tasks that are beyond their current cognitive capabilities should be avoided.
Child is seen as an active learner and thinker, as a sense maker who is constructing his own knowledge by thriving with objects and ideas. Moreover, “(the child) actively tries to make sense of the world… asks questions… wants to know… Also from very early stage, the child has purposes and intentions”. Donaldson 1978:86) However, child’s sense making is limited by their experience, so, teachers should employ teaching methods that actively involve students and present challenges
From Piaget’s theory we can interpret the classroom and classroom activities as creating and offering opportunities to learners for learning. This view coincides with ‘ecological’ thinking that sees events and activities as offering affordances or opportunities for use and interaction that depend on who is involved. (Cameron2002:5)
Piaget has related cognitive development of an individual and his environment. Thus, he has made it possible for later theoreticians to prepare frameworks for other theories, like Constructivism, standing on his views.