Learning Theories and Cognitive Development
Vygotsky, Bruner, and Dienes share the cognitive viewpoint of learning. Lev Vygotsky, a constructive theorist, viewed social and cognitive development as working jointly while building on each other. One of Vygotsky’s major contributions to understanding child development, is the concept of the zone of proximal development (Mooney, 2013). Vygotsky believed this concept to be the difference between what a child can accomplish on his own, and what he can do with the assistance of a teacher or peer. In conjunction with the zone of proximal development, scaffolding is vital to a child’s development. In Vygotsky’s view, scaffolding is instrumental in the child’s development of knowledge and skills (Shemmar & Al-Thani, 2015). Vygotsky advocated for observation in promoting a child’s development. Teachers become familiar with a child’s development through listening and watching his behavior, in this way, a greater degree of learning occurs as the teacher is aware of what the student knows, and can relate it to learning new concepts. In Vygotsky’s view, social interaction promotes individualized thinking.
Concerned with the process of learning and instruction, Jerome Bruner’s theory supports children learning through guidance and support. Similar to Vygotsky, Bruner believed instructional scaffolding to be vital to a child’s cognitive development. In Bruner’s view, any student can be taught any subject regardless of his stage of development, given support is provided in the right way, at the right time (Choudhry, 2013). An advocate for discovery learning, Bruner believed learning to be an active process. Learners create new ideas or concepts based on existing knowledge. Bruner’s theory of learning was based on children learning through three phases of cognitive development in which he or she progresses: the enactive phase, iconic stage, and the symbolic mode (Choudhry, 2013).
Focusing primarily on mathematics, Zoltan Dienes’ theory of learning includes applying teaching practices that consider children’s learning styles, and the rate their learning occurs (Gningue, 2016). Dienes’ theory includes the use of manipulative materials, games and stories. He believed at an earlier age than previously thought, children can comprehend complicated math concepts than previously assumed. Per Dienes’ theory, mastering a new concept is a process that evolves over time, and involves the child progressing through stages, or cycles of learning (Gningue, 2016).
Vygotsky, Bruner, and Dienes Versus Piaget
The work of Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget are often compared because they both acknowledged the participation of individuals in constructing knowledge; however, there are also differences in their schools of thought. Central to Piaget’s theory, cognitive development follows four universal stages, in which more sophisticated, and abstract thought increases. Piaget’s theory holds that stages occur in the same order, building on knowledge gained from the previous stage, and grouped according to age in which the child’s abilities are classified. Vygotsky took the position that through adult assistance, a child is gradually capable of performing tasks without assistance. Development is a result of the child’s interaction with assimilation and accommodation in which a balance between preexisting concepts and new information is attained, and new knowledge is constructed (Choudhry, 2013). Piaget thought that a child is actively involved in his learning, and learning was a result of the child’s interaction with his environment. Vygotsky also considered children as active participants in their learning; however, he focused on the impact of social interaction and language on a child’s cognitive development, and believed personal and social experiences cannot be separated (Mooney, 2013). Another similarity of Vygotsky and Piaget, is their view on the importance of play in a child’s development and learning.
In contrast to Piaget’s stage theory of a child’s development, Bruner believed children could learn any subject with the support and guidance of an adult. Bruner, like Piaget, saw children as actively involved in their learning process. Similar to Piaget’s stages, Bruner’s theory also consisted of phases of development in which children progress as they learn and develop. However, Bruner’s modes were interrelated, unlike Piaget’s specifically defined stages.
Unlike Piaget, Dienes focused primarily on children’s learning and development of mathematical concepts. Dienes’ theory involves progressive stages to learning math, much like Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Piaget proposed that children learn best from concrete activities, similarly Dienes’ theory also emphasized the importance of children learning through the use of manipulative materials (Gningue, 2016).
John Dewey was instrumental in developing theories regarding young children’s learning and development. In agreement with Piaget and Vygotsky, Dewey saw the child as an active part of his learning process, and learning as child centered, and interactive (Mooney, 2013). Dewey believe the child’s social world and community to be vital to his development. Dewey emphasized the role of the teacher in observing students to understand what kind of experiences they were interested in, and plan curriculum to help children understand his or her world.
Maria Montessori developed a child centered approach to learning. She believed children learn skills, including language, naturally from his or her environment, and placed emphasis on preparation of the learning environment (Mooney, 2013). Montessori’s work suggests that the most critical time of learning is during the first years of life, and learning comes through manipulation of the environment and training of the senses (Platz & Arellano, 2011). Montessori’s curriculum was based on the philosophy that educators should be passive but provide guidance as children are active participants in their learning process.
John Locke saw children as a blank slate in their nature and ability to learn (Platz & Arellano, 2011). Children’s nature and learning are influenced by their environment, and their early experiences had a lasting effect on their future. Locke also saw children as individuals who should be raised based on their individuality and taught according to their individual needs (Platz & Arellano, 2011). Locke’s view supports teaching children to read as soon as they learn to speak.
Credited with the development of kindergarten curriculum, Froebel saw the importance of using play as a teaching strategy for young children. Froebel’s play curriculum did not include instruction on reading, writing, or counting (Platz & Arellano, 2011). Play, games, and songs are vital to developing attitudes of cooperation and self-control in children.
Froebel believed block play to be essential in child development as it represented the building blocks of the universe (Platz & Arellano, 2011).
Choudhry, M. (2013). Constructivism: Way to new learning. International Journal of
Education and Management Studies, 3(2), 276-284.
Gningue, S. M. (2016). Remembering Zoltan Dienes, a Maverick of Mathematics Teaching and
Learning: Applying the Variability Principles to Teach Algebra. International Journal for Mathematics Teaching and Learning, 17(2). Retrieved from http://www.cimt.org.uk/ijmtl/index.php/IJMTL/article/view/17
Platz D. and Arellano, J. (2011) Time tested early childhood theories and practices.
Education. 32(1), 54-61. Retrieved from https://www.questia.com/read/1G1-269228798/time-tested-early-childhood-theories-and-practices