Theorist Presentation

Jean Piaget by: Amy Danaher

Basic Theory Explained

  • development is biologically based and changes as the child matures
  • cogniton develops in all children in the same sequence of stages, meaning each child goes through stages in the same order and no stage can be skipped.
  • Piaget believed that the stages are universal meaning the same sequence of development occurs in children all over the world no matter their culture.
  • Piaget suggested that children sort knowledge they acquire through their experiences and interactions known as schemas.
  • when new information is learned it can be either assimilated into an existing schema or an entirely new schema can be created.
  • he created a theory that describes the stages a child passes through in the development of intelligence/formal thought process.
  • Piaget's cognitive theory has three basic components: schemas (building blocks of knowledge and allows a child to process and transition from one stage to another) Equilibrium, assimilation and accomodation in the development of stages of development which include: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operation.
  • sensorimotor (0-2 years) object permanence: blanket and ball study
  • preoperational ( 2-7 years) egocentrism: three mountains
  • concrete operational ( 7-11 years) conservation: conservation of number
  • formal operational ( 11-on) abstract reasoning: pendulum task
  • Piaget stressed the importance of schemas in a child's cognitive development and described how they were developed and acquired. A schema is defined as a set of linked mental represenations of the world, which can be used to understand and respond to situations. It is assumed that we store these mental represenations and apply them to any situation we may come across.
  • he also believed some newborns how innate schemas even before they experience world things. The neonatal schemas are congitive structures underlying the innate reflexes. For example babies have a sucking reflex, which is triggered by touching a baby's lip or a baby will suck a finger or nipple for comfort. He therefore concluded babies have a sucking schema.
  • another example would be the grasping reflex, which results when something touches the palm of a baby's hand or rooting reflex when the baby turns its head toward something that touches their cheek.
  • Piaget saw intellcutal growth as a process of adaptation/adjustment to the world. This occurs through assimilation, accomodation and equilibrium. Assimilation is defined as using an existing schema to deal with a new object or situation. Accomodation is when the existing schema does not work and needs to be changed to deal with a new object or situation. Equilibrium is the force that moves development along and drives learning process. Piaget didnt think development progressed at a steady rate but rather leaps and bounds. It occurs when a child's schema can deal with new information through assimilation. However an unpleasant state of disequilibrium occurs when new information cannot fit into existing schemas.
  • he also thought people should not be taught certain concepts until they have reached an appropriate stage of cognitive development.
  • he thought wihtin the classroom leanring needs to be student centered and that accomplishments need to be accomplished through discovery learning. The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning instead of directing.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the theory


  • Piaget's theories and ideas have widely influnced philsophers and have contributed to many developmental theories today.
  • he changed how society viewed a child's world along with the methods of studying children.
  • Piaget inspired many theorists in their views on children when it came to development.
  • his ideas generated an enormous amount of research that has increased our understanding of the cognitive development of children.
  • his ideas have also been successful in helping our understanding and communicating with children especially for those in the educational field.
  • he provided specific evidence that showed children think differently than adults.
  • his research identified several significant milestones in the mental development of a child.
  • his work generated a strong interest in cognitive and developmental pyschology.


  • Piaget's theory clashes with those of Vgotsky and Brunner who do not believe in all stages that Piaget did, they see development more as a continuous process.
  • he primarily focused on universal stages of cognitive development and biological maturation; he failed to consider the effects of social setting and culture on cognitive development.
  • his observations along with clinical interviews are seen as being more open therefore suceptible to bias interpretations.
  • he often collected his data alone and based his observations on his own subjective interpretation of the event. It would have been more effective if he would have collaborated with other researchers to compare and contrast in what each of them saw and noting any differences.
  • his idea of schema was seen as incompatible because it could not be directly observed in its internal process therefore many did not see it as being objectively measured.

General Information About the Theorist

  • Jean Piaget was born on August 9, 1896 in Switzerland.
  • his early work with Binet's intelligence tests led him to conclude children think differently than adults.
  • at the Binet Institute he became intrigued with why children gave the answers they did, especially the ones that were wrong on questions that required logical thinking to solve. He thought these wrong answers showed a distinct difference between the thought process of an adult and a child.
  • he was the first pyschologist to make a systematic cognitive development study. He contributed to a detailed observational study of cognition in children along with series of tests that revealed differences in cognitive abilities.
  • before his research the assumption in psychology was that children were just merely less intelligent in thinking than adults. Piaget proved that children are not unintelligent but that they just think differently than adults.
  • he thought children were born with a very basic mental structure that all learning and knowledge was based on.
  • a child's cognitive development is about a child developing and constructing a mental mode of the world. Piaget was interested in how children learn and how they think. He studied children from infancy to adolescene and experimented many of his questions on his own three children.
  • his theory was concerned with children specifically rather than all learners.
  • the theory proposed discrete stages of development that is marked by qualitive differences instead of a gradual increase in number along with complexity of behaviors, concepts, and ideas.
  • his goal was to explain the mechanisms and processes by which the infant and later children devleop into an individual who can reason and think on their own.
  • to him cognitive development was a progressive reorganization of mental processes that resulted from biological maturation and environmental experience.
  • children are able to construct an understanding of their surroundings through experience discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in their own environment.
  • he died on September 16, 1980

How the Theory can be Applied to the Classroom

Piaget's theory can be applied to the classroom in that any and all experiences children encounter get stored in their schemas, and based on that event a child's developmental schema grows and is centered off those new experiences.

Does This Theory Still Exist Today...

  • his theories are widely studied today by both psychology and education majors
  • Piaget's theories continue to be studied in all areas of psychology, sociology, education and genetics.
  • his work contributed to the understanding of the cognitive development of children.
  • he helped recognize that childhood is a unique and important period of a child's development, where before many viewed children as just smaller adults.
  • Piaget influenced the development of educational policies and teaching.