Cognitive Instruction Theories
Piaget – Theory of Cognitive Development
Bruner – Discovery Learning
Difference Between Bruner and Piaget
Ausubel – Meaningful Learning Theory
1. Gestalt Psychology
Cognitive theories grew out of Gestalt psychology. Gestalt is roughly translated as
“configuration,” or “pattern,” and emphasizes “the whole” of human experience.
Gestalt views of learning have been incorporated into what have come to be labeled
Two key assumptions underlie this cognitive approach:
(1) the memory system as an active organized processor
(2) prior knowledge
: developed as a reaction to behaviorism. Cognitivists objected to behaviorists
because they felt that behaviorists thought learning was simply a reaction to a stimulus
and ignored the importance of thinking.
As opposed to Behaviorists, Cognitivists focus more on the internal mental processes
(including insight, information processing, memory, and perception) and connections
that take place during learning.
View of Learning
Internal mental process (including
insight, information processing,
Change in behavior
Locus of Learning Internal cognitive structuring
Stimuli in external
Produce behavioral change
in desired direction
Develop capacity and skills to
Four orientations to learning (after Merriam and Caffarella 1991: 138)
Cf. Chomsky’s black box
Comparison between Cognitivism and Behaviorism
3. Cognitive Instruction Theories
a. Jean Piaget
While recognizing the contribution of environment,
Piaget explored changes in internal cognitive structure.
His theory of cognitive development suggests that
children move through four different stages of mental
Cognitive Development Stages
-> His theory focuses not only on understanding how children acquire knowledge, but
also on understanding the nature of intelligence.
b. Jerome Bruner
The outcome of cognitive development is thinking. The intelligent
mind creates from experience “generic coding systems that permit
one to go beyond the data to new and possibly fruitful predictions.”
(Bruner, 1957, p. 234).
Discovery Learning Theory
Important Outcomes of Learning
Concepts and categories
Problem-solving procedures invented
previously by the culture
Ability to “invent” these things for oneself
Identify variables, collect and interpret
data Generate hypotheses in order to
better describe and understand
relationships between concepts
The continuous cyclical process of learning requires learners to interpret the data,
reject hypotheses, and make conclusions about information.
*Criticism: For discovery to take place, students must have basic knowledge about the
problem and must know how to apply problem-solving strategies.
Piaget considered human beings go through a 4-step cycle of change. The
process itself is set and automatic. Bruner, on the other hand, did not believe in
stages. He merely defined different representations or modes of transference of
knowledge, and the environment played a supporting role to the internal capabilities
of the learner (Driscoll, 2000).
c. David Ausubel
A cognitive learning theorist who advanced a theory
which contrasted meaningful learning from rote learning.
“To learn meaningfully, students must relate new knowledge
(concepts) to what they already know. He viewed learning as
an active process, not simply responding to environment.”
Meaningful Learning Theory
Ausubel stresses meaningful learning, as opposed
to rote learning or memorization; and reception, or
received knowledge, rather than discovery learning.
Key concept : Cognitive structure
Learning to Ausubel is bringing something new into
our cognitive structure and attaching it to our existing
knowledge that is located there. This is how we make
meaning, and this was the focus of his work.
4. Cognitivist Coffee
If you were at Starbucks and these individuals each walked in an ordered something
. . . what would they order, why, how might they place their order (use theory to
inform their actions)?
•How do you view the process of learning?
•Where is the locus of learning?
•What is the purpose of education?
• How do you view the process of learning? (Internal mental process (including insight,
information processing, memory, perception, e.g., Ausubel): The exchange between “Dr. B.” and
• Where is the locus of learning? (Internal cognitive structuring, e.g., Piaget):
The woman on her phone talking about her boyfriend, who sometimes acts like he is 5
(“Preoperational”) rather than 25.
•What is the purpose of education? (Develop capacity and skills to learn better, e.g., Bruner):
The woman forgets her password and decides to use a mnemonic device to remember it better in the