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Stage theory of cognitive development (also known as developmental stage theory or genetic epistemology 1) ) was introduced by Swiss child psychologist Jean Piaget in the 1950s. This theory describes development of cognitive processes which are key to understanding, but also constrain of learning. According to Piaget,
In 19473) Piaget has first introduced his four stages of human cognitive development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete, and formal, as they are described below. Ages describing when which stage occurs are the average values.
The importance of the Piaget's stage model are the constrains that stage of cognitive development sets on learning. These constrains mean that what can be learned depends on the current developmental stage. One should be taught to apply developed cognitive structures to new material, but to learn new strategies first the related cognitive structure has to evolve.
Learning according to Piaget takes place through two processes: absorbing into the existing schemata (mental constructs which individuals use to organize and adapt to environment), and accommodating when schema change is required.4)
Piaget was also concerned with the instructional methodology for children where he was a proponent of:
These assumptions made Piaget believe that learning using tutoring procedures was ineffective, and that constructive learning should provide much better results. Still, research has soon shown that both assumptions were generally incorrect.
Piaget's theory suggests that in order to make learning effective,
Aside from that, Piaget was mostly orientated on learning in
What should also be taken into consideration is that although all children go through the same steps during their development, that do it at different rates. Educational process should therefore be more focused on individuals and small groups within a class than to the class as a whole unit.
One of the suggested ways of measuring the border between preoperational and concrete-operational period Piaget suggested were conservation experiments. For example, two equal glasses filled with liquid are presented to a child, after which liquid out of one glass is poured into a third, more narrow glass. The child is then asked which glass holds more liquid. Only a child in the concrete- or formal-operational period should realize both glasses hold equal amount of liquid.
But although according to Piaget's theory, these stage differences cannot be overcome using any kind of training, a number of experiments5) have proved the opposite. The child's ability to learn (at least for conservation concepts) is not so strictly defined by his current stage of cognitive development in accordance with Piaget's theory.
Experiments have also shown that other methods of teaching including tutoring or social learning through observation were at least as successful as learning by self-discovery.
As the result criticisms of Piaget usually emphasized that,
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University of Hawaii - Honululu Community Coledge - PIAGET'S COGNITIVE STAGES. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
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Piaget, J. The Origins of Intelligence in Children. New York: International University Press. 1952.
Piaget, J. Studies in reflecting abstraction. London: Psychology Press. 2001.
Lourenço, O. and Machado, A. In defense of Piaget's theory: A reply to ten common criticisms. 1996.