Piaget:Constructivism & Cognitivist Perspective

Constructivism & Cognitivist Perspective

Considered one of the most prominent and prolific constructivists, Jean Piaget developed the theory of cognitive development around the premise that thoughts, memory, past experience, problem solving and processing information all influence the learner (Doolittle and Hicks, 2012).  Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development changed the education paradigm from a traditional passive and transference process into one that the individual constructs knowledge and becomes an active learner (Brown and Desforges, 2007).

Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development are:

  • Sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years)
  • Pre-operational stage (2 to 7 years)
  • Concrete operational stage (7 to 12 years)
  • Formal operational stage (12 years onward)

Ideas, thoughts and knowledge development that exist in memory according to Piaget are termed schema. The concept of schema theory involves the organised structure of memories, past experience and the knowledge we possess and develop over time (Winn and Snyder, 1996). This constant interpretation and adaption is according to Piaget, the process of adaption and assimilation to the environment. Adaption are the skills to develop cognitively to progress and continually learn, progress and remain challenged. Accommodation is when the new knowledge or the existing schema do not work, the requirement of a different perspective or even changes need to occur for ongoing learning opportunities and development. Assimilation is using new experiences to already existing schema, knowledge and experiences.

To succinctly summarise cognitive perspective learning theory, “learners learn how to learn” (Biggs and Tang, 2007). The cognitive approach requires active participation and educational approaches to encourage interaction to realise potential (Killen, 2012). This educational approach generates meaning from the interactions in learning and the view of one’s self and internal organisation of knowledge. The structured learning environment means the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning rather than the provider of information (Killen, 2012).

Central to this cognitive representation and subsequent theories from Piaget’s extensive research is the focus of the development and education of children, rather than adults. One element of conjecture with Piaget is the four stages take the learner from birth (sensorimotor stage) to childhood (formal operational stage), but lacks the relevancy for the adult learner (McLeod, 2009).


Biggs, J., & Tang, Catherine. (2011). Teaching For Quality Learning At University (4th ed.). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education. [sample here]

Brown, G., & Desforges, C. (2007). Piaget’s Theory: A psychological critique. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Doolittle, P. E., & Hicks, D. (2003). Constructivism as a theoretical foundation for the use of technology in social studies. Theory & Research in Social Education, 31(1), 72-104.

Killen, R. (2012). Effective teaching strategies: Lessons from research and practice. Melbourne: Cengage Learning Australia.

McLeod, S. A. (2009). Jean Piaget. Retrieved from

Rungapadiachy, D. M. (1999) Interpersonal communication and psychology for health care professionals. Theory and practice. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Winn, W., & Snyder, D. (1996). Cognitive perspectives in psychology.Handbook of research for educational communications and technology: A project of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 79-112.