A blog for the comprehensive understanding of Literature, Applied Linguistics and ELT

October 30, 2009

Assimilation & Accommodation


Piaget (1985) suggested that learning process is iterative (repetitive), in which new information is shaped to fit with the learner's existing knowledge, and existing knowledge is itself modified to accommodate the new information. The major concepts in this cognitive process include:

Assimilation (incorporation) is the inclusion of new information into one’s existing knowledge. This is when an individual uses their existing knowledge to make sense of a new event. In other words, it is the process of applying old schemas (knowledge) to new objects and events. Let us imagine that the child has the three schemas of grasping, biting and shaking and it is confronted with a new object, for example, a teddy bear. It will try to understand this object by making use of its old schemas, which means that it will grasp, bite and shake the teddy bear.

Accommodation (modification) is the change or modification of existing knowledge to interpret a new experience or situation. That is, accommodation consists of modifying some elements of an old schema or learning a new schema which is more appropriate for a new object or event. For example, the crying schema can be modified by changing the pitch or intensity, depending on the kind of the need to be expressed.

Accommodation and assimilation are called functional invariants because they are characteristic of all biological systems. However, they are not always in balance with one another. Advances in cognitive development become greater when accommodation plays a larger role than assimilation since then the range of the child's behaviour expands because the child learns the new schemas that will be appropriate for a new situation. The more such instances, the better for the child, because then its repertoire of behaviour expands.
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