Development Theories


Major Developmental Theoriests in Educational Psychology

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget
Piaget's theory centers on the idea that children are active and motivated learners. He advocated what is known as "cognitive constructivism," meaning that students create their own meaning through interaction with the environment. He theorized that learning occurs through a process of assimilation and accommodation as students continually seek for equilibrium. However, he also hypothesized that cognitive development can only occur as cognitive maturation is achieved. His four stages of development are:

  • Sensorimotor
  • Preoperational
  • Concrete operations
  • Formal operations
Lev Vygotsky Lev Vygotsky
Vygotsky believed that learning is a social process, hence his theory is referred to as "social constructivism." He believed that language, particularly self-talk and inner speech, plays a major role in learning. Major applications of Vygotsky's theory to education include the Zone of Proximal Development, scaffolding, guided participation, apprenticeship, and peer interaction.
Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson
Erikson's theory asserted that everyone experiences a series of "psychosocial crises" as they mature. In other words, everyone has certain emotional hurdles to overcome. How they overcome those hurdles can affect their personal development. The stages of Erikson's theory are:

  • Trust v. mistrust
  • Autonomy v. doubt
  • Initiative v. guilt
  • Industry v. inferiority
  • Identity v. role confusion
  • Intimacy v. isolation
  • Generativity v. stagnation
  • Integrity v. despair
Lawrence Kohlberg

Lawrence Kohlberg

Kohlberg's theory takes aim at the development of moral reasoning. In other words, how do children think about moral situations? He advocated teaching moral reasoning through the presentation of moral dilemmas. His stages are as follows:

Level 1: Preconventional morality

  • Stage 1: Punishment-avoidance and obedience
  • Stage 2: Exchange of favors

Level 2: Conventional morality

  • Stage 3: Good boy/good girl
  • Stage 4: Law and order

Level 3: Postconventional morality

  • Stage 5: Social contract
  • Stage 6: Universal ethical principle


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