MET:Jean Piaget's Developmental Stage Theory

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Jean Piaget, a Swiss biologist, believed that children developed cognition and knowledge by progressing through a series of developmental stages. Piaget hypothesized that each stage occured in a sequential order, and that none of

the stages could be missed. To move from one stage to the next, children, through the use of assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration, gain and build schemata, which is transferred to the next stage and further built upon in a constructionivst manner ( Piaget believed that knowledge actually consisted of these schemata and cognitive structures. The two major forms of knowledge that Piaget was concerned with were operative and figurative knowledge. Operative knowledge consists of the knowledge of how things change. Figurative knowledge consists of things that do not change. For example, visual, and sensory stimulus demonstrate figurative knowledge (Campbell, 1997).

Key Terms (Driscoll et al,

Assimilation: Incorporating new logical structures (or schema) into existing ones that we then apply to the world around us.

Accommodation: Modifying logical structures or schema to better deal with the environment.

Equalibriation: The balance between the cognitive structures of assimilation and accommodation in attaining knowledge,

Egocentrism: The failure to understand how someone else's point of view might be different from their own. Piaget's research pointed to the fact that egocentrisim was most prominent before the age of six or seven. However, Piaget's later research, as well as that of other researcher's, have hypothesized that egocentrism can arise at any stage of development, but in new and different forms.

Assimilation and Accommodation can alternatively be explained by viewing this video.

To become more familiar with these concepts, read over some examples of assimilation and accommodation.

Lastly, the flow chart below may help to visually summarize these terms:

Stages of Development:

(Saler and Edginton, 2008)

Piaget's theory center's upon the four stages of development that take place in children. The following charts, and video's summarize what each stage entails. The mind map (above) illustrates how they relate to each other:

Sensorimotor Stage:

  • Intelligence is demonstrated through motor activity without the use of symbols.
  • Knowledge of the world is limited because it is based on physical interactions/ experiences.
  • Children acquire object permeance at about 7 months of age.
  • Physical development (mobility) allows the child to begin developing new intellectual abilities.
  • Some symbolic (language) abilities are developed at the end of this stage.

File:Object permeance.jpg

Object Permeance video: Click here

Pre-Operational Stage:

  • Intelligence demonstrated through the use of symbols, language use matures, and memory and imagination are developed.
  • Thinking is done in a nonlogical, nonreversable manner.
  • Egocentric Thinking Predominates

File:Pre-operational stage.jpg

Pre operational Stage video: Click here

Concrete Operational Stage:

  • Intelligence is demonstrated through logical and systematic manipulation of symbols related to concrete objects.
  • Operational thinking develops (mental actions that are reversible).
  • Egocentric thought diminishes.

File:Concrete operational.jpg

Concrete Operational video: Click here

Formal Operational Stage:

  • Intelligence is demonstrated through the logical manipulation of symbols related to abstract concepts.
  • Early in this period there is a return to egocentric thought.
  • Many adults never attain this stage.

File:Formal operation child.jpg

Formal Operation Video: Click here

Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development--From a Piagtian Developmental Readiness Perspective

Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), simply put, is the area between what someone can achieve developmentally in terms of problem solving at a fixed point in time (a snapshot), and what they can potentially achieve through problem solving with the help of someone more capable (ongoing development). (Vygotsky, quoted in Miller, 2002).

For Piaget, ZPD is akin to moving from one of his four stages of development to the next. The ‘zone’ for Piaget would be developing (the ongoing) attributes associated with each stage, from commencement to conclusion. Piaget also hypothesized that humans used cognitive structures to attain and develop knowledge. Cognitive structures are how we deal with and interpret the world in order to gain knowledge. The most important form of knowledge for Piaget would be operative knowledge, which deals with knowing about change. (Campbell, 2006).

Hence, for Piaget, attaining operative knowledge is akin to a person being within the ZPD. He saw cognitive structures as being organic and dynamic, much like Vygotsky’s ZPD, where the learner is constantly progressing in their acquisition of problem solving skills, and hence development (Campbell, 2006).

ZPD relies upon prompts, models, clues, leading questions,etc to help a learner progress developmentally. Piaget would argue that these are synonymous with his own notions of accommodation and assimilation, both of which are ways to incorporate knowledge into cognitive structures.

Therefore Piaget would see ZPD as being a sound developmental principle, as both notions rely on ‘constructing’ knowledge, albeit through different mechanisms (assimilation and accommodation vs. prompts, etc).

However, Piaget would disagree with Vygotsky on the impact of culture on ZPD. As stage theory does not factor in cultural aspects on development, Piaget would point out that his theory is universal, and not culturally specific.

Applications of Developmental Theory:

The following tables give practical, real-world applications of developmental theory in action. Each stage includes associated activities and strategies that can be used to implement developmental theory in pedagogical terms:

File:Pre-Operationalchart.jpg File:Concrete operationalchart.jpg File:Formal Operationalchart.jpg

These strategies can be applied by going through the following webquest.

Lastly, here are some examples of some games that take Piagetian Developmental Stages into account.

Wiki Stop Motion Artifact on Piaget's Developmental Stage Theory

The following Wiki Stop Motion Artifact presents Piaget's Developmental Stage Theory in an animated visual format.

PIaget's Developmental Stage Theory video: Click here

Added by Laurie Petrucci, February 3, 2015

Another Stop Motion Artifact that illustrates Piaget's Developmental Stage Theory.

Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development: Click here

Added by Danny Mercer, January 31, 2016

The following Stop Motion Artifact illustrates Piaget's Developmental Stage Theory and how educators can support students at each level in the classroom.

Piaget's Developmental Stages Theory (& Suggestions for Educators): Click here

Added by Dan Edwards, January 26, 2017


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Developmental Approaches to Learning. Retrieved June 4, 2008 from

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction (pp.227-244; Ch. 7 - Interactional Theories of Cognitive Development).  Toronto, ON: Pearson.

Examples of Piagetian Assimilation and Accommodation Retrived June 7, 2008 from

Familly Fun: Games by Age-And more Family Fun. Retrived June 6, 2008 from

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Huitt, W. (1997). Cognitive development: Applications. Educational Psychology Interactive . Valdosta , GA : Valdosta State University . Retrieved [ June 2, 2008 ], from .

Jean Piaget. (2008, June 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:14, June 16, 2008, from

Miller, P.H. (2002). Theories of Developmental Pyschology 4th Ed. (pp.367-396; Vygotsky’s Socio-Cultural Approach). New York: Worth.

Morris, Joyce L. WebQuests. Retrieved June 4, 2008 from

Piaget's Developmental Theory: an Overview (Davidson FIlms, Inc.) Retrieved online at

Piaget on Piaget. Retrieved online at

Quiz - Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development. Retrived June 15, 2008 from

Saler, G. and Edgington, C. G. Retrieved June 3, 2008 , from

Smith, L. (1996) Critical Readings on Piaget. Routledge.

Zwingmann, C. Inhelder, B. Chipman, H. (1976). Piaget and his school: a reader in developmental psychology (ch 1). The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of childhood cognitive development. Blackwell Publishers.