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The Neo-Piagetian perspective stemmed from criticism of Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Development theory. This lesson will discuss the Neo-Piagetian perspective and Robbie Case’s Theory of Development.

Neo-Piagetian Perspective

The Neo-Piagetian Perspective arose out of criticism of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development explained the mechanisms and stage-like processes by which children developed reasoning and thinking skills. Neo-Piagetian theorists, similar to Piaget, propose that cognitive development occurs in stairstep-like stages.

However, in contrast to Piaget’s theory, Neo-Piagetians argue that:

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  • Piaget’s theory did not fully explain why development from stage to stage occurs
  • Piaget’s theory does not take into account individual differences that allow some children to move through the stages of development more quickly.

Neo-Piagetians also adopted principles from other theories, such as the social-cognitive theory that allowed them to consider how culture and interactions with others influenced cognitive development and principles from information processing theories.

Robbie Case’s Theory

Robbie Case, a Canadian psychologist, was an influential Neo-Piagetian who proposed a theory of executive control and central conceptual structures.Case proposed that executive control structures are the building blocks of developmental stages.

If we think back to our staircase example, executive control structures explain what is happening to the learner during each stage of development.Executive control structures do the following:

  • They allow a person to represent a problem.
  • They articulate the objectives of problem solving.
  • They create a strategy needed to solve the problem.

Executive Control Stages

Case maintained that there are four types of executive control stages and that these stages correspond to Piaget’s main stages of sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational.

Piaget’s stages are covered in detail in another lesson.Case proposed the following four types of executive control stages:1.) Sensorimotor Structures (1 – 18 months of age). Perceptions and actions that can be performed on objects occur in this stage.

For example, the perception of an object causes a desire (‘I want to hold that toy’), which activates an action to satisfy the desire (‘I must reach out my hand to grab the toy’).2.) Inter-relational Structures (18 months – 5 years old). Simple relations between actions or representations occur in this structure.3.) Dimensional Structures (5 – 11 years).

Relationships between previously learned information and new information are formed in this structure.4.) Vectorial Structures (11 – 19 years). Complex understanding of the relationship between prior knowledge and new knowledge occurs in this stage.

Complexity Sequence

Case proposed that within each of the four structures we just discussed, cognitive development evolves along a sequence of complexity. This idea is in direct response to the criticism of Piaget’s theory that argues Piaget did not fully explain why development occurs from stage to stage. If we think again about a child moving through a maze on each stair, the sequence of complexity represents the obstacles a child must move through in order to reach a new stage of development.

The sequence of complexity involves:1.) Operational Consolidation. The child is assimilating what he or she has just learned.2.) Unifocal Coordination. The child can apply a newly learned skill to a variety of different factors, such as quantity, space and social behavior, but can only focus on problem solving in one domain at a time.3.

) Bifocal Coordination. The learner is able to focus on two factors at a time.4.) Elaborated Coordination. The learner is able to focus on a variety of factors in a complex way at the same time.

Central Conceptual Structures

To address the second criticism that individual differences were not taken into account in Piaget’s theory, Case proposed that differences occur in the learner’s organization and development of different domains due to how meaning is organized in those domains.

These were referred to as central conceptual structures.Central conceptual structures were identified for domains, such as quantities, space, social behavior and music. Each structure involves a set of processes and principles that serve as a framework for understanding concepts within the domain – for example, the concept of more and less for quantities, the concept of behaviors and intentions for social behavior, and the concept of tone and pauses for music.Learning the core central conceptual structures helps learners acquire new knowledge rapidly and assimilate it into existing knowledge. The individual learner’s preferences, environment, and support cause these core central conceptual structures to vary from learner to learner.

Lesson Summary

The Neo-Piagetian Perspective arose out of criticism of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.

Specifically, Neo-Piagetian theorists cited the lack of accounting for individual differences and no clear explanation of why development from stage to stage occurs as concerns.Robbie Case, an influential Neo-Piagetian, proposed a theory of executive control structures. His theory hinged on a similar idea of Piaget’s: that cognitive development occurs in stage-like sequences.

The four stages of executive control structures are sensorimotor, inter-relational, dimensional and vectorial. These corresponded with Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development.Case proposed that within each of the four structures, there is a sequence of complexity involving operational consolidation, unifocal coordination, bifocal coordination and elaborated coordination.

Additionally, Case proposed that differences occur in the learner’s organization and development of different domains due to how meaning is organized in those domains. These were referred to as central conceptual structures.

Learning Outcomes

Through this lesson, you can build your capacity to:

  • Identify the tenets of the Neo-Piagetian perspective and explain how this theory developed
  • Outline Robbie Case’s theory of executive control stages
  • Paraphrase Case’s sequence of complexity
  • Summarize central conceptual structures according to Case’s theory

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