Piaget, Kohlberg and Vygotsky

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Piaget, Kohlberg and Vygotsky Syllabus and Study Material

Jean Piaget: Jean Piaget was a developmental psychologist who was born in Switzerland in 1896. Piaget, is famous for his theories of child development, particularly his theory of cognitive development. He proposed a stage theory of development, which linked the interaction between cognitive and biological development in children.

Piaget’s Theory: Four Periods of Cognitive Development

The Sensorimotor Period: Birth to Two Years

  • Stage one: First month of life, Reflexes; Random uncoordinated movements.
  • Stage two: age 1 to 4 months, Accommodation and assimilation Begin.
  • Stage three: age 4 to 8 months, Cause and effect is discovered.
  • Stage four: age 8 to 12 months, Idea of “permanence” and future is discovered;
    Experimentation begins,- Independence and independent goal Setting begin.
  • Stage five: age 12 to 18 months
  • imitation begins;
  • experimentation accelerates.
  • Stage six: age 18 to 24 months
  • memory and thought begin;
  • Problem solving begins;
  • Independence develops into sense of self as individual.
  • The Preoperational Period : Two to Seven Years
  • imagining thinking begins,
  • imaginative and egocentric logic begin,
  • vocabulary develops from 200 to 2000 words,
  • literal and limited interpretation of language develops and becomes more sophisticated through constant questioning.
  • The Concrete Operational Period : Seven to Eleven Years
  • understanding of conservation and reversibility begins;
  • understanding of sets begins;
  • decentration is used in reasoning;
  • imagination is replaced with addiction to literal fact;
  • experimentation is replaced with a desire for simplicity, rules, and order;
  • visual problems are solved better than verbal problems.
  • Formal Operations : Eleven to Sixteen Years
  • ability to think abstractly develops;
  • formal logic is used scientifically;
  • ability for introspection develops;
  • assumption of adult roles begins;
  • awareness of and concern about society and one’s role in if begin;
  • physiological changes accompanied by self-consciousness occur;
  • physical maturation is complete and final socialization now depends primarily on environmental factors.

Piaget’s Views on Moral Development
Piaget (1932) used the interview method to find out the various stages of moral development of the child. According to him, there are four stages of child’s moral development –Each stage of moral development is discussed as under:

  • Anomy (The first five years): This is the stage without law. At this stage the behaviour of the child is neither moral nor immoral but is non-moral or amoral. His behaviour is not guided by moral standard. The regulators of behaviour are pain and pleasure not immorality or immorality.
  • Heteronomy-Authority (5-8 years): Moral Development at this stage is controlled by external authority. Rewards and punishments are two things that regulate moral development.
  • Heteronomy - Reciprotity (9-13 year): At this stage, there is the morality of co-operation with peers or equals.
  • Autonomy-Adolescence (13-18 years): This Stage is called the equality stage also. While reciprocity demands strict equality, autonomy demands equity. The individual at this stage is fully responsible for his behaviour.

Lawrence Kohlberg

Lawrence Kohlberg was an American developmental psychologist born in 1927 whose primary focus was on how children develop a sense of morality. The theories of Kohlberg are based on those of Piaget, although their theories and approaches differ as well.
Kohlberg focused his attention on the development of moral judgement in children. He treated the child as a moral philosopher. Kohlberg investigated how children and adults reason about rules that govern their behaviour in certain situations. He secured their responses to a series of structured situations or moral dilemmas.

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Reasoning
Kohlberg opined that people progress through three levels (comprising six stages) as they develop abilities of moral reasoning.

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Growth : The three stages are as under –

  • Pre-Conventional Level: This level of moral reasoning includes the roles set down by others and the children follow them. There are two stages of this level as under:
  • a)Stage One – Punishment and Obedience Orientation: At the first stage physical consequences of an action determine whether it is good or bad.b)Stage Two – Instrumental relativist orientation: At this stage what’s right satisfies one’s own needs and occasionally the needs of others.
  • Conventional Level : At this level the individual adopts rules. Sometimes, he subordinates his own needs to the needs of the group.
    c)Stage Three - Good Boy-Good Girl Orientation: Good behavior is what pleases others and is approved by them.d)Stage Four : Law and order orientation. Law and order orientation means performing one’s own duty properly and showing respect for authority.
  • Post-Conventional Level : At this level people definite their own values in terms of ethical principles they have chosen to follow:
    e)Stage Five - Social Contract Orientation: What’s right is defined in terms of both the general individual rights and in terms of the standards that have been agreed upon by the whole society.f)Stage Six – Universal Ethical Principle Orientation: What’s right is defined by the decision of the conscience according to the self-ethical principles.

At this stage, children’s needs and desires become important, yet they are aware or take care of the interests of other people. In a nutshell it can be said that, they consider the interests of others when they make moral judgements.

Lev S. Vygotsky

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky was a psychologist born in Russia in 1896. Vygotsky was most famous for his theory of socio-cultural development and believed

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Growth Source, Adapted from Kohlberg 1969.

That development occurs primarily through interaction with one’s culture. Both theorists offered major contributions to the areas of developmental psychology as it applies to education. Culture is the prime determinant of cognitive development. Learning leads to cognitive development.
The Social Formation of Mind
Vygotsky believed that individual development could not be understood without reference to the social and cultural context within which such development is embedded.

Mind Evolution is Continuous: Unlike Piaget or Brunce, Vygotsky focused on the mechanism of the development, excluding distinguishable development stages.

Vygotsky’s Theoretical Assumptions: He rejected the idea that a single abstract principle, such as equilibration, can explain cognitive development. He offered an alternative to Piaget’s constructionism.

Piaget: Mind models the external world. Human beings make sense of their world by means of their mental structures.
Vygotsky: External world models the mind. Knowledge is internalization of social activity.

Mediation: Mediation means human beings purposefully interpose tools between them and their environment, in order to modify it and obtain certain benefits.

Examples – Farmers plough the earth to acquire better crops.
Mediation is a central concept in Vygotsky’s view of cognitive development. It offers a complementary perspective to the behaviourist view. He states that by using activity mediators, the human being is able to modify the environment, and this is her way of interacting with the nature. Two phenomena marked the mediated relationship of humans with their environment.
The use of tools within social organized activity. The use of language as a cultural form of mediation.

Mediation → Intelligence Higher mental process

How people convert social relations into Psychological function?
They use different types of language (signs) as mediators between their minds and their environment.

High Mental Orocesses-Symbolic Mediation: When a child tries to grasp an object, and parents interpret this gesture as a pointing out to the object, they give her the object. She internalizes the gesture as a way of acquiring the mental representation of this behaviour becomes more abstract. An interpersonal relation between child and parents become intrapersonal (child’s representation of acquiring objects).

Decontextualization: The use of abstract language is the most important sign-mediated behaviour that occurs during cognitive development. It appears as the detachment from the individual features of the environment. An example is when children start to play with abstract objects.

Mediation → Intelligence → Higher mental processes.

During humankind’s evolution, more complex structures of activity by more complex tools produce more complex mental structures.
Psychological tools enable us to perform higher mental functions:

  • Various systems for counting
  • Mnemonic Techniques
  • Algebraic symbol system
  • Works of art
  • Writing
  • Schemes, Diagrams, Maps, and Technical Drawings
  • All sorts of conventional signs.

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

It represents one of the most obvious difference between Vygotsky’s and Piaget’s view of cognitive development.
This is the Vygotskian concept that explains the mechanism of cognitive development. ZDP is actually the gap between actual competence level (what problem level a student is able to independently solve) and the potential development level (what problem level could she solve with guidance from a tutor).

ZDP is based on the mental functions that have not yet matured but are being in the process of maturation :

  • It supports a representation of intellectual development based on continuity.
  • It states that learning can force cognitive development.
  • It states the role of the teacher as a necessary mediator of child’s cognitive development.

Learning, Instruction and development in Vygotsky’s view.
The only good type of instruction is that which leads the cognitive development.
The only good learning is that which is in advance of the development. Learning that is situated within the current development level is not desirable.
How could we understand and statement that some learning doesn’t bring development.


  • Cognitive development in the zone of proximal development stresses the role of social partner of the student (a teacher or a more skilled peer).
  • The instructor becomes a supportive tool for the student in the zone of proximal development. The characteristies of an ideal teacher are those of a scaffold.
  • It provides support. It functions as a tool. It extends the range of the worker. It allows to accomplish a task otherwise impossible. It is used selectively, when needed.
  • In Vygotsky’s view, learning is an interactive interpersonal activity.
  • Instructor and student co-construct the solution to problem.
  • Inequality between partners resides only in their respective levels of understanding. Authority is shared.
  • The Psychological mechanism is to create (external) activities that will be later internalized by student.
    Example: Palincsar’s reciprocal learning (an instructional strategy for improving reading comprehension). Intersubjectivity comes together with scaffolding.


  • Compare Piaget and Vygotsky’s basic tenets of cognitive development. Explain that Piaget saw cognitive development from a biological perspective and believed that intelligence stems from a human ability to adapt and organize. Clarify that Piaget believed children organize ideas into groups or ‘schemes,” through which they either assimilate new information or accommodate information that does not fit with existing schemes. Contrast this with Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development in which children transform and internalize information about the world via language. For Vygotsky, social interaction is the major impetus for development. When a child hears language, she imitates it until it becomes internalized and is represented in the mind as internal speech.
  • Look at two theorists’ views of the progression of development. Explain that Piaget believed that development precedes learning. That is, a child starts from a self-centered position and develops on his own accord, moving from himself into the social world as he develops. Compare this with Vygotsky, who believed that development begins with socialization and language acquisition, which lead to development learning.
  • Look at the major contributions of each theorist. Notice that Piaget used a stage model of development to show the connection between a child’s biological and cognitive development. Understand that this model shows Piaget’s core belief that brain growth is related to chronological development, underscoring the connection with biology. Contrast this with Vygotsky’s belief that language and culture are intergral to development. Explain that Vygotsky proposed that children construct their knowledge out of social interactions, and that learning promotes development. For Vygotsky, language is the major facilitator of social learning and development.


  • Consider Piaget’s theory of moral development. Explain that for Piaget moral development occurs in two distinct stages. Piaget theory is that young children believe that rules are dictated by either their parents or by God. Young children base their moral judgements on consequences rather than intentions. Clarify that for Piaget this way of thinking about morality changes for children around age 10, when they start to understand that morals are based on their own judgements and intentions. Explain that for Piaget the points is that children move from a concrete understanding of morality to a more abstract one, where they realize
  • Piget's Stages of morality
    Stage 1: (up to age 7) Morality imposed from without
    Stage 2: (age 7 on Morality) develops from without as a result social contract
    Piaget's and Kohlberg's Satages of Moral Development.
    That rules are not absolute but are ways for humans to cooperate and get along.
  • Look at Koglberg’s theory of moral development. Notice that Kohlberg built upon Piaget’s theory, but offers a more sophisticated understanding of childhood morality, in six-stage model. Contrast this to Piaget’s two-stage model. Notice that like Piaget, Kohlberg saw children’s beginning understanding of morality as having to do with rules and consequences. Notice too that Kohlberg believed that children struggle, over time, with issues connected to morality such as individual rights, relationships, social order and universality. Note that Kohlberg’s theory offers more details and a deeper understanding of human development of morality than Piaget’s.
  • Compare the work of Kohlberg and Piaget as stage theorists. Piaget was the first psychologist to postulate a stage theory of cognitive development. For Piaget, children develop intellectually in a hierarchical manner, in four specific stages ranging from infancy to adolescents. Contrast this to Kohlberg’s five stages of moral development. These are also hierarchical but unlike Piaget do not specify age ranges. Note that Kohlberg’s stages also allow for development of morality throughout the life span not just until adolescence. Notice that for Kohlberg’s stages of moral development stem from socialization. That is interactions with parents, teachers and peers lead to the individual’s understanding of what is morally right and wrong. Contrast this with Piaget’s theory of cognitive development in which intelligence develops in conjunction with biological development.
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