Jean Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory revolutionized how human development is viewed, influencing teaching methods, and deepening human understanding about the subject. Piaget recognized that people go through stages of learning, or personal evolution, as they grow, and that these stages tend to universally happen at approximate ages.
Piaget first made his observations about child development when working in a lab in Paris, after observing that children didn’t seem to be more intelligent necessarily as they became older, but that they began to think and learn differently, depending on their stage of development. He then identified certain ways of behaving and thinking children displayed, and gave each of these four stages a name.
The first stage begins at birth, and ends when a child becomes a toddler, at around the age of two. This is called the sensorimotor stage, and involves babies starting out without the realization that objects have permanence, and not being able to crawl. They then begin to develop these abilities. They learn from their environment, and what Piaget called schemas, that objects still exist, even if you remove them from view. Children also learn to coordinate motor skills, such as grasping and sucking during this stage.
Piaget would often refer to schemas and reflexes in his work. Schemas, he identified as being a form of mental organization, and reflexes as schemas people are born with. His theory supposes that humans develop due to a constant struggle between attempting to make sense of the world, via observing their environment and making what they see, fit in with their mental organization.
The second stage of cognitive development begins when a child is a toddler, and continues into early childhood, until approximately the age of seven. During this, the pre-operational stage, children begin to learn about symbols, and are particularly egocentric. They see themselves as a central figure in the world, which revolves around their needs. They believe everyone shares their recognition of whats good and bad, and are unable to imagine other people may have differing views on morality.
During the concrete operational stage of development, which is to follow, children travel into adolescence, up until roughly the age of eleven, understanding more complex symbols, and learning that they aren’t the reason the world exists after-all. Their operational development increases, as they understand that things aren’t always as they at first seem.
During Piaget’s final stage of development, called the formal operational stage, adolescents move closer to adulthood, but also become egocentric again for a while. They understand more sophisticated abstract concepts, and evolve into the world of adults. They are also able to theorize about outcomes, and realize different variables which may affect them.
Some psychologists believe Piaget’s stages of development need not, and indeed should not end there. Many researchers argue that people continue to grow and learn to varying degrees, and that emotional intelligence doesn’t necessarily reach its full potential when humans reach adolescence. Despite this, Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory continues to provide educational psychology with a framework which revolves around cognitive stages of development.