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Jean Piaget - Psychology and LearningJean Piaget - Psychology and Learning


Jean Piaget (1896-1980)


Swiss educational psychologist (pictured right).


What did he say about education and learning?


1. Children learn gradually

Children aren’t less intelligent than adults, but they think and learn differently in four different stages:

 Jean Piaget - Psychology and Learning

a) sensorimotor stage (first two years) 

Babies learn about the world through their senses like looking, listening and touching.


b) pre-operational stage (age two to seven)

Learning to arrange objects logically:

Age 2-4 - thinking in absolute terms (e.g. big or biggest).

Age 4-7 - using relative terms (e.g. bigger or heavier).


c) concrete operational stage (around age seven to twelve)

Learning through understanding the quantity and quality of actual (concrete) objects

(for example, the same liquid can be placed in one big or smaller equivalent containers).

 Jean Piaget - Psychology and Learning

d) formal operational stage (from around age 12)

  • developing a reasoned argument.
  • thinking critically, creatively, hypothetically and imaginatively.
  • thinking about abstract concepts.
  • evaluating knowledge and the consequences of people's actions.

So learning should be an active process (see point 2) that involves children in activities appropriate to each of the above four stages.


2. Self-discovery is vital

The teacher shouldn’t tell children what they should know but help them discover knowledge for themselves, continually changing their idea of truth through:Jean Piaget - Psychology and Learning

  • their observations of the world.
  • discussion with family members and other children (much more important than actual instruction).

So a teacher should act as a mentor and an enabler, constantly encouraging children's:

  • creativity
  • imagination
  • independent thinking.

 Jean Piaget - Psychology and Learning

3. Creativity is cool

The main aim of education is to produce creative people.

So children must be encouraged to

  • experiment
  • do new things.


4. Learning is adapting knowledgeJean Piaget - Psychology and Learning

People learn through “equilibration” - balancing:

  • the application of previous knowledge (“assimilation”).
  • changing behaviour because of new knowledge (“accommodation”).


5. Knowledge in categories

As we learn, we organize knowledge into different categories, modifying or changing them as our knowledge increases.


Key quotes on education and learning

Education means making creators.

The goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things

Children have real understanding only of that which they invent themselves.

Coercion is the worst of teaching methods.


Key quote on society

The common wealth of all civilizations is the education of the child.

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