Activity 5

Piaget's Genetic Epistemology

Piaget's constructivist theory of cognitive development has been a major influence on educational policy around the world for several decades.

However, his main concern was less to do with education than with understanding the philosophical growth of knowledge. He called this area of study, ‘genetic epistemology', and he believed that the best way to develop this understanding was to study the process in growing children.

One of Piaget's central insights was that children are not just little adults; they think in a qualitatively different way from adults. This may seem obvious to us now but it was a revolutionary idea fifty years ago when psychological research was dominated by behaviourism with its stimulus-response theories and theories of environmental conditioning.

Piaget emphasised self-activity as the source of knowledge. He said that children construct their view of reality themselves. They do so actively. Knowledge is never just a copy of reality; it is always an individual construction. (That is why we call Piaget an ‘individual constructivist' rather than a behaviourist.)

Many educationalists have concluded from these Piagetian principles that pupils should be encouraged to engage in forms of discovery learning where teachers set up situations in which they can find out things for themselves.

READ: Read about some of the educational implications of Piaget's theories in the following link to a TES article by Annabelle Dixon (August 13th, 2004).

(Allow 25 minutes)