Cognitive Theories

What is cognitive development? It can be described as a developing of the mind. Cognitive development is how an individual’s intellectual mind learns, develops and processes everything around them. Cognitive development occurs through out the course of a person’s life, and without it, a person could not function in life. Two common problems with cognitive development that keep arising are the theories of nature-nurture and continuous-discontinuous development. Nature-nurture believes that children are born with an innate ability to learn and develop like their ancestors did because development is hereditary. Also, development and learning is nurtured by loved ones. With continuous-discontinuous, development is thought to be a smooth progression through life as an individual learns new skills. As Robert Slavin described in Educational Psychology (2009), the discontinuous portion of the theory focuses more on the internal traits rather than outside influences. One thing to remember is that children are not smaller versions of adults. Each child is different and learns differently. At least two popular theorists thought so (2012, Pearson Education). Cognitive Development Theorists

Jean Piaget was a constructivist whose theory on cognitive development relies on four developmental stages which span a person’s life. According to Piaget, it is possible to experience two stages at the same time, but it is not possible to skip a stage. Piaget’s theory on cognitive development can be broken down into assimilation, accommodation and equilibration. Another constructivist was Lev Vygotsky.

Lev Vygotsky’s theory focuses on cognitive development occurring as a result of a child’s cultural and historical development. With the aid of signs, development could be stimulated and enhanced (2012, Pearson Education). These signs are things such as language, media, and writing. Both Vygotsky and Piaget believed cognitive development was essential. Similarities and Differences in Nature of Intelligence

Two similarities that are common among Piaget and Vygotsky are how social influence can affect development and what is known rather than what is taught. Piaget believed that social interaction started internally and
should be driven by the child. Vygotsky, on the other hand, believed that social interaction guided what a child learned. While each believed that social interaction was important, it could either hinder or aid cognitive development. Similarly, both believed that children had the innate ability to acquire learning skills. This occurs in the earliest years of development,

The differences in each of their theories are much easier to recognize. For instance, one difference was how they perceived private speech. Piaget’s theory focused on this type of speech as egocentric, meaning it was words the child knew and understood thus believing others knew what they meant. Vygotsky’s theory focused on private speech as being self taught based on culture and was the foothold to socio-cultural learning. Each differently thought language played unique roles in development. Piaget considered language as being from the inside-out and Vygotsky was from the outside-in (2009, McLeod). Similarities and Differences of the Stages of Development

As stated earlier, Piaget believed that development occurred in four stages known as the sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational. Development begins with assimilation and accommodation, and progresses to the point of abstract thinking. Similarly, Vygotsky’s theory has processes that are grouped into affiliation, play, learning, peer and work. Likewise, there is also similarity in stage development. Piaget felt that a child needs to have discovery learning that should not be beyond a child’s developmental stage. This is similar to Vygotsky’s Zone of proximal development (ZPD). To Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development was anything they did not yet know but was capable of learning with guidance and assistance (2012 Pearson Education).

One difference would be that Piaget believed that children classified things into schemes. If something did not fit a scheme, disequilibration occurred. To Piaget, this happened most often when a child interacted with others in a manner that did not fit into a scheme. Vygotsky on the other hand, felt that peers or more knowledgeable others had the skills to instruct others to learn from them.

Another difference would their thinking on the stages of development. As indicated earlier, Piaget theorized that development occurred in four consecutive stages and was limited to those stages. Vygotsky theorized that development was a continuous process of watching, attempting and adjusting. Similarities and Differences of Classroom Application

The similarities in classroom application for both theorists would be using a hands–on approach and self guided assistance to learning. By using a hands-on approach, Piaget believed children would use assimilation and accommodation along with schemes to learn. The hands-on interaction engages the child. Vygotsky also believed that interaction assisted the child in developing self regulation and problem solving skills.

By using self guided assistance, Piaget believed children would be able to internalize situations and develop abstract thinking to solve the problem. Vygotsky also believed that helping a child find the answer rather than instructing or giving it to them aided in the development of problem solving skills (2007, McLeod).

One glaring difference is the classroom setup. Piaget believed that children learned best as individuals rather than the group environment Vygotsky favored. In a classroom using Piaget’s theory, children would have their desks in rows, whereas, Vygotsky would have them set in groups. Vygotsky believed children learned better in a group setting where they can get help from their peers or MKO.

Another difference favored by Piaget was learning by discovery, allowing children to act individually with the world on a more physical level. Thus cookie cutter lesson plans would be useless in a Piaget classroom. Vygotsky, on the other hand, believed that cooperative learning among students and teachers led to more advanced thinking. In a Vygotsky driven classroom, groups of children could be given scenarios to work through.

While it is important to remember that children are not smaller versions of adults, both Piaget and Vygotsky believed cognitive development was
essential. Regardless of predetermined stages or processes, cognitive development leads to abstract thinking and better problem solving skills. Each theorist has both positive and negative aspects but when used in conjunction with each other, complement to provide a solid basis for development.

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Vygotsky – Social Development Theory. Retrieved from McLeod, S. A. (2009). Piaget | Cognitive Theory. Retrieved from Pearson Education (2012). Educational Pyschology-Theories of human development. Retrieved from

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