Thursday, June 4, 2015

Piaget, Dewey, and Vertical Learning

I had dinner with my friend Alec a few weeks ago. After reading An Introduction to Vertical Learning, he asked me how I saw vertical learning sitting relative to Piaget and Dewey. Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist and philosopher who believed that we generate meaning through the interaction of our experiences and ideas, and that cognitive development occurs through a series of stages. John Dewey was an American psychologist and philosopher who had a profound belief in democracy. He believed that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and that all students should take an active role in their own learning.

Vertical learning is firmly grounded in Piaget’s constructivist learning theory. It is designed to encourage students to become independent active learners by seeking out and embracing cognitive dissonance. Dewey’s influence on vertical learning is less direct. Like Dewey, I believe that the purpose of education is not to acquire a pre-determined set of skills, but to realize one’s full potential. On the surface it may have appeared as though my students were studying math and science, but they knew that they were actually building their capacity to learn in general. Without that sense of relevance, they would have never taken ownership of their own learning and gone vertical. You could say that I was using Piaget’s engine to drive us to Dewey’s destination.

Alec’s question prompted me to brush up on Piaget and Dewey. Ideas that I thought I knew well took on new meanings once I examined them again through twenty years of experience and a more sophisticated set of mental models. This cognitive dissonance is causing me to revise my own thinking once more. This is still a work in progress, but here are some of my recent thoughts on Piaget and Dewey.

Piaget and Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive Dissonance, Agency, and Growth
Dewey and Society
Dewey, Society, and Cognitive Development
Vertical Learning and Constraints

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