Cognitive Learning Theories in Children

Written by charong chow
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Cognitive Learning Theories in Children
Cognitive learning theories help explain how children understand the world. (child image by ann triling from Fotolia.com)

Since the 1960s, Cognitivism replaced Behaviorism as the predominant learning research theory. Edward Tolman's research of rats in mazes helped lay the foundation that animals creative cognitive maps of their environment in order to learn. He also used ideas of problem solving from Gestalt psychology. Cognitive learning theories revolutionised psychology, and different psychologists have contributed their own theories.

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Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Jean Piaget, 1896 to 1980, identified two processes in his theory of cognitive development, Process of Cognitive Development and Stages of Cognitive Development, which are still widely used today. The Process of Cognitive Development hypothesised that infants were born with two reflexes, assimilation and accommodation, which are used throughout their lives to learn and adapt to their environment. Assimilation is the process of incorporating your surroundings into your earlier cognitive beliefs. Accommodation is the process of altering your cognitive structure to accept the new idea. Piaget's four Stages of Cognitive Development are the sensorimotor stage, or infancy; preoperational stage, or early childhood; concrete operational stage, or elementary school age; and formal operational stage, or adolescence to adulthood.

Social Development Theory

Lev Vygotsky, 1896 to 1934, worked at the same time as Piaget, and his Social Development Theory laid the foundation for much of the cognitive development theories that followed. He died when he was 38, so much of his writing is incomplete. Vygotsky believed that community, or the social interactions surrounding a child, plays an integral role in his cognitive development. He argued that learning through social interaction and culture comes before intellectual adaptation. His two main principles are the More Knowledgeable Other and the Zone of Proximal Development. The More Knowledgeable Other is an older child, peer or adult from whom a young child learns, and Zone of Proximal Development is the guidance from the more knowledgeable other, which helps the younger child develop his own higher cognitive functions.

Bruner's Three Modes of Representation

In 1966, Jerome Bruner published a book, "The Process of Education," based on cognitive development research in children that theorised the Three Modes of Representation: enactive, iconic and symbolic. Enactive representation is action-based information, such as a baby shaking a rattle, which then creates muscle memory. Babies learn to expect the sound of the rattle when shaken because of their past experience with it. Iconic representation is visual images that help children learn, such as diagrams or illustrations. Symbolic representation is the last development stage in children, and it is learning the concept of symbols or language. Bruner believes that language is necessary for the ability to understand abstract concepts.

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