Constructivism Pt.2: The Cognitive Revolution

Jerome Bruner was an advocate of the so-called ‘Cognitive Revolution,’ an intellectual movement in the 1950s that began what are known collectively as the cognitive sciences – “an interdisciplinary study of the cognitive processes underlying the acquisition and use of knowledge” (“Cognitive Science”, 2007). Following on from the work of Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget, he developed a number of cognitive & constructivist psychological approaches “not to ‘reform’ behaviourism, but to replace it” (1990, p.3). Bruner demonstrated that a learner’s actions are less constrained by immediate environmental stimuli, and that cognitive processes mediate the relationship between stimulus and response.

He asserted that learning could occur without an observable manifest behaviour and that it was possible to undertake a task or acquire knowledge ‘mentally’ rather than through a purely positivist or behaviourist methodologies phenomenology. By emphasising the importance of teaching as a means of enhancing cognitive development, Bruner saw the role of the instructor as one who mediates the information to be learned, delivering it in a format appropriate to the learner’s current state of understanding. The instructor was responsible for encouraging learners to discover principles by themselves, and both learners and instructors should engage in an active dialogue: “practice in discovering for oneself teaches one to acquire information in a way that makes that information more readily viable in problem solving” (Bruner, 1961, p.26).

To enhance this process he maintained that learning and curricula should be organised in a learning spiral, where content is structured and distributed in a format that is appropriate for the learner’s current level of knowledge. The content must also be sequenced in such a fashion that the learner is appropriately challenged and stimulated by the content so that the information being mediated by the instructor continually builds upon what the learner has already assimilated (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Bruner’s Learning Spiral (adapted from Harvard Project Zero)



Bruner, J. S. (1961). The act of discovery. Harvard Educational Review 31(1): 21–32

Bruner, J. S. (1990). Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press

Cognitive Science. (2013). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia. [Internet] Available from: [Accessed 1st November 2013]


November 15 2013 09:00 am | e-learning

2 Responses to “Constructivism Pt.2: The Cognitive Revolution”

  1. A Year in E-Learning: one Blog’s Progress | The E-Learning Curve Blog on 28 Nov 2008 at 2:06 pm #

    [...] I would assert that the practise of blogging is a excellent example of Bruner’s Learning Spiral: the act of writing a blog post transforms information and enables the construction of knowledge, [...]

  2. Immersive learning environments - a great example | E-Learning Curve Blog on 16 Sep 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    [...] you’re a Constructivist (like me) you’ll appreciate how well this exhibition aligns with Bruner’s Principles [...]