Edtech 504: Learning Theories – Child Development Theory

Child Development Theory


According to  Ertmer & Newby (1993), Cognitive theories “stress the acquisition of knowledge and internal mental structures; they focus on the conceptualization of students’ learning processes and address the issues of how information is received, organized, stored and retrieved” (58).  The Child Development Theory, in essence, involves the way students learn and transfer information. It also comprises the maturation of the individual.

The Child Development Theory stems from rationalism, or the “view that knowledge derives from reason without the aid of the senses” (Ertmer & Newby, 1993,            p. 54).  Many of the cognitive theories deal primarily with accessing students’ prior knowledge, or information that is already inside of the human mind and then determining how to make meaningful connections to that prior knowledge with new materials that are presented.  Rationalism also deals with the idea of “learner’s encoding new information” (Ertmer & Newby, 1993, p.55).  Encoding can only be done when and if the learner is at the appropriate stage of Cognitive Development.



The major contributor to this theory is the biologist, Jean Piaget. He created the stages of Cognitive Development in his theory by observing children and talking and listening to them as they would work on practice problems he would arrange for them. Through doing this, he established a learning theory that has tremendously influenced the way that teachers arrange and coordinate their curriculum, so as to reach their students at their particular maturity and cognitive level of development.


Major Principles

            There are 4 stages of Cognitive Development, according to Piaget. Each stage comprises a certain age group and holds prerequisites for maturation mastery. In the Sensory-Motor stage, children from ages infant to 2 years old, “life is assimilated to activity in general” (Leonard, K., Noh, E.K., & Orey, M 2007).  This would include finding objects and linking numbers and identity to objects. In the Pre-Operational Stage, children 2 to 7 years, “life is assimilated to movement” (Leonard, K., Noh, E.K., & Orey, M   2007). During this stage, children increase their language capabilities, over-generalize and are able to grasp a limited amount of logic. In the Concrete Operational Stage, children ages 7 to 11 years, “life is assimilated to spontaneous movement” (Leonard, K., Noh, E.K., & Orey, M.  2007).  During this stage, the child’s growth of language is expansive and they are using their senses of the world around them in order to make logical predictions and observations.

In the Formal Operational Stage, children ages 11 years and up , “life is restricted to animals and plants” (Leonard, K., Noh, E.K., & Orey, M. 2007). Formal Operations is the very last of the Child Development Stages and at this point, it is clear that there is a sort of equilibrium that is reached by the child.  This is when “assimilation and accommodation reach a balance in the mental structures” (Leonard, K., Noh, E.K., & Orey, M. 2007).  They are capable of coming up with possible outcomes in scenarios and constructing patterns of their own way of thinking.

Piaget’s theory relates to the idea of relating new information to previously learned ideas. So, as the child matures, they take what is learned and apply it to prior knowledge of an object, situation or event (Leonard, K., Noh, E.K., & Orey, M. 2007).  For instance, a child may group certain objects into categories together as new objects are introduced, like fruit or vegetables. The child must adapt the new learned information in order to fit into these “schemas” or “mental representations of something tangible or intangible” (Leonard, K., Noh, E.K., & Orey, M. 2007).



            Educators of children at the Sensory Motor Stage, should provide activities that promote identification and counting. At this stage, they are learning how to link numbers and objects together and so, with plenty of practice and visual representations, students will improve upon their mathematical and language skills.  During the Preoperational Stage, students’ logic is not fully developed and therefore, the educator will need to question them with the sole intention of building their logic skills. For instance, if students are learning about geometric shapes, they should be asked to group them according to similarities and then asked about why they grouped certain shapes together (Ojose, B., 2008,p.27).

In the Concrete Operations Stage, teacher should engage their students with as many manipulatives as they can in order to foster the “hands on” approach to thinking that children are capable of excelling at during this phase. Also, it is important for students to make the connection between the activity and the concepts and so it is important for teachers to tell students that there is more than one answer for some problems or conditions they will answer ( Ojose, B., 2008, p.27). According to Ojose (2008), at the Formal Operations Stage, students are ready to clarify, infer, evaluate and apply what they have learned (28). Teachers should in every situation, allow students to do this. For example, in a Language Arts classroom, students could be asked to clarify the speech made by Romeo in Act Two Scene 1, inferring his meaning to the whole text, evaluating the speech for overgeneralization and then applying his meaning to the Act as whole.



Ertmer, P.A., & Newby, T.J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism:      Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance       Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50-72.

Leonard, K., Noh, E.K., & Orey, M. (2007). Learning Theories and Instructional    Strategies. In M. K. Barbour & M. Orey (Eds.), The Foundations of Instructional     Technology. Retrieved <February 16, 2012>, from             http://projects.coe.uga.edu/itFoundations/

Matthews, Gareth. (2010). The Philosophy of Childhood. Stanford Encyclopeda of             Philosophy. Retrieved <February 19, 2012>, from  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/childhood/#TheCogDev

Ojose, Bobby. (2008). Applying Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development to        Mathematics Instruction. The Mathematics Educator, 18(1) 26-30. Retrieved          <February 18, 2012> , from           http://math.coe.uga.edu/tme/issues/v18n1/v18n1_Ojose.pdf 



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