Piaget, Kohlberg and Vygotsky: Constructs and Critical perspectives

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who emphasised that the environment does not simply facilitate the entrance of information into the minds of children. In fact, the understanding of the world is actively constructed by children. Children improve their understanding of the world as they grow through the additional information they acquire which enables them to include new ideas to adapt their thinking. According to Piaget, from infancy to adolescence, a child’s mind passes through a series of stages. Each stage is related to age and a distinct way of thinking characterises it. He propounded a framework for conceptualising child development. His theory stresses upon cognition which means to comprehend, perceive, or to know and is also referred to as genetics epistemology. This theory lays stress upon the interaction between a child’s biological inheritance and his environment for cognitive development. 

According to Piaget’s theory, there are three processes through which cognition takes place and they are as follows: 

1. Assimilation: It refers to fitting in new information in a cognitive structure (schemas) that is previously established. 

2. Accommodation: It refers to responding to new information by altering the existing cognitive structure.

3. Equilibration: It refers to the intellectual functioning at an optimal level which occurs when a balance strikes between assimilation and accommodation. 

Stages of Cognitive Development

1. Sensorimotor (birth- 2 years):

In this stage, the infant coordinated sensory experiences with physical actions to explore the world.

2. Preoperational (2- 7 years):

In this stage, there is a development of symbolic thoughts where object permanence is established. The child is unable to coordinate an object’s different physical attributes. 

3. Concrete operational (7-11 years):

In this stage, the child develops logical reasoning about classification of objects into different sets and about concrete events. They additionally develop the ability to perform reversible mental operations on representations of objects.

4. Formal operational (11-15 years):

In this stage, the child develops hypothetical thinking and the adolescent can apply logic in a more abstract manner. 

Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development 

According to Kohlberg, moral development is, “the development of an individual’s sense of justice.” He believes that, “people pass through a series of stages in the evolution of their senses of justice and in the kind of reasoning they use to make a moral judgement about right and wrong.” He suggested that moral reasoning has a three level sequence which included six stages. 

The three levels are as follows: 

1. Level-I: Pre-conventional Moral Reasoning

2. Level-II: Conventional Moral Reasoning

3. Level- III: Post-conventional Reasoning

The six stages are as follows: 

1. Punishment-Obedience Orientation 

2. Personal Reward Orientation 

3. Good boy- Good girl Orientation

4. Law and Order Orientation

5. Social Contract

6. Universal Ethical Principle

Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Perspective

Vygotsky states that in sociocultural perspective,

“all mental activities first take place in the external social world. Children learn the culture of their community by ways of thinking and behaving.”


1. Theory of Internalisation:

According to this theory of Vygotsky, development occurs in the environment, specifically the social environment and directs itself inward. After seeing other people do different things at home, in the peer group, and school, the child subsequently learns to do it in the same way. For example, learning how to speak a language.

2. The Zone of Potential/Proximal Development (ZPD):

This stage refers to the difference between the actual development (as measured by a test of intelligence) and the level through which a child can attain after guidance. 

3. Scaffolding:

It usually refers to the support that is facilitated to students for learning and problem-solving.

These are the various constructs and critical perspectives given by Piaget, Kohlberg, and Vygotsky.