Compare Piaget and Vygotsky

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Piaget v Vygotsky

Cognitive development is the term used to describe the construction of thought process, including remembering, problem solving and decision-making, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. In this essay I will compare and contrast the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky, both of which were enormously significant contributors to the cognitive development component to/in psychology. In addition to this I will also weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of each theory and outline how they can be applied to an educational setting.

At the centre of Piaget's theory is the principle that cognitive development occurs in a series of four distinct, universal stages, each characterized by increasingly sophisticated and abstract levels of thought. He believed that these stages always occur in the same order, each builds on what was learned in the previous stage and that the development resulted from two influences: maturation and interaction with environment. Although Vygotsky’s theory works along similar lines to Piaget – the belief that children were active in their learning. He focused more on the importance of social interaction and language and how they both play a fundamental influence on children’s development of understanding. Although both psychologists acknowledged that all children go through stages, they were distinguished by different styles of thinking, and approach to analysing the cognitive development process. The stages were the centre of Piaget’s theory while Vygotsky only acknowledged them in his theory.

Piaget’s theory unlike Vygotsky, generalized children into age groups and ranked their abilities accordingly. For example: Piaget believed that all children that reach The concrete Operational stage (ages 7-11) have overcome centration and become decentred, they are capable of mastering the principles of classification, seriation and class inclusion. However, Vygotsky maintained the concept that if a child follows the adult's example he will gradually develop the ability to do certain tasks without help or assistance. He called the difference between what a child can do with help and what he or she can do without guidance the "zone of proximal development" (ZPD). As a result of this different approach to children, we can relate this to the reason why unlike Piaget, Vygotsky acknowledged the issue of Special Educational needs and how some children might be of the same age as their peers but find it difficult to complete the same tasks cause of other issues.

Vygotsky believed that learning leads to development and that “Pushing” the child as such was to be encouraged in order to develop the potential the child can reach. On the other hand, Piaget’s theory was based on biological maturation, an understanding that intelligence is gained as a process that is developed over time. Both psychologists believed that interaction was the key to the development of the child. However, they both focused on a different interaction. Piaget acknowledged the importance of the child’s interaction with the environment whilst Vygotsky on the other hand stressed the importance of social interaction and of having someone who knows more than the child and who can help the child learn something that would be too difficult to do alone.

Piaget saw the child as a scientist, he learnt things in solitary on his own, while Vygotsky saw the child as an apprentice because he learnt as a result of social collaboration. Consequently, the way that they viewed the role of the teacher in a child’s life differed. Piaget believed that the teacher was the facilitator, the one that provides the interaction in the environment. As opposed to Vygotsky’s belief that the teacher is the expert that provides the scaffolding support to children as they are learning new things. In addition to this Vygotsky believed that language was crucial for the cognitive development. He believed that the greatest advantage in development comes...
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