I recently had a discussion with someone about Piaget, and she asked this question:
“Isn’t Piaget’s stuff about kids and how they learn? Why would that be important for you to know?”
Well, yes and no. The theory does apply to child development, but understanding this process also helps us to understand how people learn and how abilities to perceive and learn certain things changes over time. These changes are dependent upon social, physical and cognitive environments all working in conjunction together. In that regard, some of Piaget’s theory can be applied to adult learning as well. For instance, Piaget states that there are three different types of knowledge: physical, logical-mathematical (I termed it cognitive), and social. Physical knowledge is the knowledge we get of our physical environment or the object before us. Think of a person who had never used a computer before. To truly learn about a computer, you need to see one, see how it works, know how the mouse moves the cursor and the keys create words. Logical-mathematical knowledge requires interaction with objects or situations in question in a more advanced and abstract way. Think of a chemistry class with a lab component. You are learning through doing and creating abstract concepts to attach to and expand upon the schemes developed earlier in life. The logical-mathematical knowledge is what we focus on primarily all throughout our education. Social knowledge is culturally specific and includes values, histories, beliefs, mores, etc. This is actually important when you work with a diverse group of adult students from varying cultures. If they are acclimating to your own culture, they may have some gaps in that social knowledge they did not acquire as a child, and so an instructor needs to take that into account.
So yes, while Piaget’s theories are focused on child development, those concepts can overlap into adult learning as well.