What is Piaget's Cognitive Development theory?  

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Jean Piaget's Cognitive Development theory states that human beings are born with impulses, instincts, and reflexes just like every other animal. In humans, however, these impulses and instinctive behaviors are the product of a higher intellectual capacity that all humans develop both biologically and socially.

According to Piaget, there is a scheme or pattern that all humans follow during their biological and psychological development. It consists of four steps, each having its own purpose and goal. Depending on how well-adjusted is the individual to his or her environment, the development will carry on successfully.

The steps are:

  1. Sensorimotor stage (Infancy).  This is the stage with which we mostly associate the behavior of babies. This state alone is subdivided among 6 sub-stages. It is characterized by the discovery and exploration of the immediate environment, for the small connections that begin to be made, and for the use of memory, movement, and early language. Sensory means "feelings,emotions, senses", and motor stands for "mobility". Hence,the name of the stage.
  2. Pre-operational stage (Toddler and Early Childhood). This stage refers to the growing period that pertains to children that are 2-4 years of age. It is characterized by the child's use of objects to build understanding through concrete representations that expand the imagination. During this time children also make conclusions based on what they immediately perceive (for example: All apples are red, or chocolate milk is already brown, etc). This is the stage of the challenging ages known as the "terrible two's and the "trying three's". Its complete, primal experimentation.
  3. Concrete operational stage (Elementary and early adolescence). This is the school-age to High School stage in which most of the individual's intellectual development and social interaction occur. The operational thinking also develops, meaning that children of this age group are able to build, produce, and perform an action, and are also able to reverse it, if needed be.
  4. Formal operational stage (Adolescence and adulthood). During this stage one experiences the responsibilities of high school, college, and young adulthood. It is a time where students can operate in the abstract, and do not need that many concrete representations to understand a concept. This last stage continues to develop throughout life.

Piaget's theory is the backbone of most educational theories today. It is accepted that students will go through a series of developmental and cognitive changes that will necessitate for a standardized way to develop instruction based on those needs.

Although society is changing as a whole, and the field of psychology consistently finds new information about the human brain, Piaget has  consistently served as the accepted foundation on which new strategies of academia are created, and tested.

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