Module 2
Introduction to Development- Piaget and Vygotsky
Piaget's Constructs


This module discusses child development from the perspectives of Piaget and Vygotsky. Both Piaget and Vygotsky believed that development requires a child to interact with their surrounding environment. However, each theorist views the development of the child very differently. Piaget is considered the father of child development, while Vygotsky was a leader in the development of social constructivism. Vygotsky is credited with the origination of the important constructs of scaffolding and the zone of proximal development.

By the time you finish this module you should be able to discuss the following topics and answer questions such as:

    * What is cognition?
    * How do children develop according to Piaget?
    * What is the difference between accommodation and assimilation?
    * How did Vygotsky view cognitive development?
    * How are Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s views both similar and different?

Before you begin, review the learning objectives from your textbook and also consult the concept map.

You should also review:

    * A Psychology Resources site:
          o Cognitive Development and Piaget:
          o Vygotsky:

Learner Objectives

Upon completion of this module, learners will be able to:

    * Identify three issues that are regularly debated in Educational Psychology
    * Given descriptive scenarios, determine the stages of cognitive development according to Piaget
    * Define constructs associated with Piaget’s stages of development
    * Describe Vygotsky’s approach to development

Introduction to Development - Piaget and Vygotsky
Major Issues

The term development refers to how people grow, adapt, and change over the course of their lifetimes. Development includes physical development, personality development, socio-emotional development, cognitive development (thinking), and language development.

There are several major theories of human development you should know. The most prominent theory is Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Other important theories are Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development, Erik Erikson's theory of personal and social development, and Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral reasoning.
The controversy

Before we learn about specific theories it is important to know educational psychologists and researchers consistently debate three issues. These issues are especially relevant to theories of development.

The nature-nurture controversy asks the question, "Is development predetermined at birth, by hereditary factors, or do experience and other environmental factors affect it?" In other words, what is more important the environment or genetics in determining the physical, cognitive, and emotional make up of an individual?

Today, most developmental psychologists believe that nature and nurture combine to influence biological factors playing a stronger role in some aspects, such as physical development, and environmental factors playing a stronger role in others, such as moral development. Today, most developmental psychologists acknowledge the role of a variable combination of both inborn factors and social experiences when explaining children's behavior.   Recent research on identical twins ($) separated at birth  has indicated that the biological or genetic predisposition for certain traits such as intelligence can be superceded by a supportive and nurturing environment.  In other words, even in cases of exact genetics, environmental  influences are responsible for differences in behaviors, preferences and personalities.

Another issue revolves around continuous and discontinuous theories, emphasizing how change occurs. One perspective assumes that development occurs in a smooth progression as skills develop and parents and the environment provide experiences. This continuous theory of development would suggest that children are capable of thinking and acting like adults, given the proper experience and education.

Discontinuous theories emphasize that development occurs in stages, and development takes place in a predictable, invariant order, but at different rates for different individuals. Discontinuous theories suggest development occurs in jumps or spurts similar to the growth of a caterpillar or a tadpole when dramatic change is apparent once the next stage of development is reached.

A third issue is the stability-change debate. If a young child is assertive when they are young will they remain that way or become shyer as their growth progresses? Traits vary in the degree of change they undergo over the course of a life-span. We know that development is multi-directional as there are critical times during the development of a child where certain skills are easily acquired, such as language. As a child matures language acquisition becomes more challenging. We also know that development involves plasticity, the ability to reacquire skills that may have been lost. Today most developmental theorists agree, change can occur throughout life, but specific traits and factors throughout the developmental life-span are still debated.

Cracking the Code of Life:

Recently Public Television (PBS) featured a two-hour special on the Human Genome project based upon the book by Kevin Davies, Cracking the Genome, one segment of the program is specifically devoted to the nature-nurture controversy. Watch the entire program at: or learn more about the ongoing debate:

Please now visit "Piaget's Stages"