Piaget believed that our present knowledge has evolved over time. The desire to learn and know is built in from infancy. The basic concepts within our knowledge such as in mathematics and science have been constructed over generations. Each succeeding generation uses the basic concepts of the preceding generations, combining and altering them so new concepts emerge (Almy & Genishi, 1979). Piaget's theory provides a description of the processes of human developments that are involved from infancy to adult hood. Adults do not grasp a new set of ideas all at once, Piaget believes that we learn new information slowly by attaching the new information with meanings from prior experiences (Almy & Genishi, 1979).
The concept of cognitive structure in humans is central to Piaget's theory. Cognitive structures are patterns of physical or mental action that underlie specific acts of intelligence. These patterns correspond with stages of child development. Piaget based his theory on two biological tendencies: organisation and adaptation. Humans are designed to organise their experiences in to logical sets of meanings. Organisation defines how experiences are related to each other. The organisation of information and experiences makes the human thinking process more efficient. Adaptation is the tendency to adjust to the environment. It is the process by which humans match the original experience and the new experience and this may not fit together.
According to Piaget there are two processes at work in cognitive development: assimilation and accommodation. Cognitive growth is the result of the constant interweaving of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation occurs when we modify or change new information to fit into our schemas (what we already know). It keeps the new information or experience and adds to what already exists in our minds. Accomodation is when we restructure of modify what we already know so that new information can fit in better. This results from problems posed by the environment and when our perceptions do not fit in with what we know or think.
Process of Cognitive Development(Huitt &Hummel, 1998). As a biologist, Piaget was interested in how an organism adapts to its environment (Piaget described as intelligence.) Behavior (adaptation to the environment) is controlled through mental organizations called schemes that the individual uses to represent the world and designate action. This adaptation is driven by a biological drive to obtain balance between schemes and the environment (equilibration).
Piaget hypothesized that infants are born with schemes operating at birth that he called "reflexes." In other animals, these reflexes control behavior throughout life. However, in human beings as the infant uses these reflexes to adapt to the environment, these reflexes are quickly replaced with constructed schemes.
Piaget described two processes used by the individual in its attempt to adapt: assimilation and accomodation. Both of these processes are used thoughout life as the person increasingly adapts to the environment in a more complex manner.
Assimilation is the process of using or transforming the environment so that it can be placed in preexisting cognitive structures. Accomodation is the process of changing cognitive structures in order to accept something from the environment. Both processes are used simultaneously and alternately throughout life. An example of assimilation would be when an infant uses a sucking schema that was developed by sucking on a small bottle when attempting to suck on a larger bottle. An example of accomodation would be when the child needs to modify a sucking schema developed by sucking on a pacifier to one that would be successful for sucking on a bottle.
As schemes become increasingly more complex (i.e., responsible for more complex behaviors) they are termed structures. As one's structures become more complex, they are organized in a hierarchical manner (i.e., from general to specific).