Jerome Bruner: Biography of the engine of the cognitive revolution

Jerome Seymour Bruner (United States, 1915 – 2016) is one of the psychologists who most influenced the development of psychology in the 20th century, and with good reason. After receiving his doctorate from Harvard University in 1941, he conducted a series of articles and research on perception and learning that led him to confront behaviorists, like BF Skinner, who understood this process as the result of memorizing appropriate (or “useful”) responses to certain stimuli.

When, during the 1950s, Bruner acted as a driver of the cognitive revolution that ultimately led to the establishment of the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies and the consolidation of cognitive psychology, the crisis of the behavioral paradigm set in. aggravated and began to forge the cognitivist current, which is today the most dominant in practically the whole world.

In addition to his contributions to cognitive psychology, Jerome Bruner spent several decades teaching at Harvard and Oxford, retiring at the age of 90.

Jerome Bruner’s three learning models

Like many other researchers in cognitive psychology, Jerome Bruner has spent a lot of time studying how we learn in our early years.. This led him to develop a theory of three fundamental ways of representing reality, which in turn are three ways of learning based on our experiences. These are the active model, the iconic model and the symbolic model.

According to Bruner, these models or modes of learning are presented in a staggered manner, one after the other in an order that goes from the most physical and linked to the immediately accessible to the symbolic and abstract. It is a learning theory very inspired by the work of Jean Piaget and his proposals on the stages of cognitive development.

The similarities between the ideas of Jérôme Bruner and Piaget do not end there, because in both theories, learning is understood as a process in which the consolidation of certain learnings makes it possible to learn things that could not be learned before.

1. Active model

The enactive model proposed by Bruner is the way of learning that appears first, since it is based on something that we have been doing from the first days of life: physical action, In the broadest sense of the word. In this, the interaction with the environment serves as a basis for the acting representation, that is to say the processing of information about what is close to us which reaches us through the senses.

Thus, in Jerome Bruner’s enactive model, learning takes place through imitation, manipulation of objects, dance and acting, etc. It is a way of learning comparable to the sensorimotor stage of Piaget. Once certain learnings have been consolidated in this way, the iconic model appears.

2. Iconic model

The iconic way of learning is based on the use of drawings and pictures in general which can be used to provide information. on something beyond themselves. Examples of learning based on the iconic model are memorizing countries and capitals by looking at a map, memorizing different animal species by looking at photographs, drawings or films, etc.

For Jerome Bruner, the iconic way to learn represents the transition from concrete to abstract, And therefore has characteristics that belong to these two dimensions.

3. Symbolic model

The symbolic model is based on the use of language, whether spoken or written. Language being the most complex symbolic system that exists, it is through this learning model that we access the contents and processes related to the abstract.

Although the symbolic model is the last to appear, Jerome Bruner points out that the other two continue to produce when learned this way, While they have lost much of their importance. For example, to learn the movement patterns of a dance, we have to resort to inactive mode regardless of our age, and the same will happen if we want to memorize the parts of the human brain.

Learning according to Jerome Bruner

Beyond the existence of these modes of learning, Bruner also had a particular vision of what learning is in general. Contrary to the traditional view of what learning is, which equates it with the almost literal memorization of content “stored” in the minds of students and learners, Jerome Bruner understands learning as a process in which the learner takes an active role.

Starting from a constructivist approach, Jerome Bruner understands that the source of learning is intrinsic motivation, curiosity and, in general, anything that arouses the interest of the learner.

Thus, for Jérôme Bruner, learning is not so much the result of a series of actions as of a continuous process based on the way in which the individual classifies the new information which reaches him to create a whole with meaning. The success of the pooling of knowledge and its effective classification will determine whether the learning is consolidated and serves as a springboard to other types of learning or not.

The role of teachers and tutors

Although Jerome Bruner noted that the learner also plays an active role in learning put a lot of emphasis on the social context and, in particular, on the role of those who supervise this learning. Bruner, like Vygotsky, argues that learning does not take place individually but in a social context, which leads him to the conclusion that there is no learning without the help of others, that it is ‘be teachers, relatives, more experienced friends, etc.

The role of these facilitators is that of to vouch for a guided discovery of the motor is the curiosity of learners. In other words, they must implement all means so that the learner can develop his interests and in return acquire practice and knowledge. This is the basic idea of ​​scaffolding.

It is therefore not surprising that, like other educational psychologists like John Dewey, Bruner proposed that the school should be places which open the way for the natural curiosity of the pupils, by offering them means of learning through inquiry and the possibility of developing their interests through the participation of third parties who guide and act as referents.

The spiral program

Jerome Bruner’s research led him to propose one spiral educational program, In which the contents are reviewed periodically so that each time are reconsolidating the contents already learned in the light of new information available.

Bruner’s spiral program graphically captures what he means by learning: the constant reformulation of what has been internalized to make it richer and full of nuance as various experiences are lived.

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