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Knowing is a Process: Jerome Bruner

Updated on November 1, 2012


Through the 20th century, Jean Piaget dominated the area of developmental psychology. He explained how a child's mind processing develops and matures in stages. Shortly after Piaget, Lev Vygotsky's theory claims who said children learn through interactions with other people. In the 1960's, the cognitive revoluation was building up. Mental processes were being explained by the "information processor" of the brain.

Bruner's New Approach

Jerome Bruner studied the ways that our needs and motivations influence perception. He concludes that we see what we need to see, much like how a magician gets away with his tricks. Bruner became interested in how cognition developed and began to study the cognitive processess in children.

Bruner applied cognitive models to the ideas of Piaget and Vygotsky. Instead of focusing on the construction of meaning, he narrowed his vision onto the processing of information. Much like Piaget, Bruner believed that acquiring knowledge was an experiental process. However, like Vygotsky, he saw acquiring knowledge through a social occupation. Learning cannot be conducted without assistence. Some form of instruction is essential to a child's development, but instruction teaches them to participate in the process. When we absorb knowledge we need to actively participate and reason, instead of passively absorbing information, mainly because this gives knowledge reasoning. Reasoning is seen as processing information, so knowledge should be seen as a process without an end result. Humans need encouragement and guidance in that process in the role of a teacher.

In his book, The Process of Education, Bruner expressed the idea that children should be active participants in the process of education. The book altered the educational policy in the United States.

Stages of Bruner's Thinking

  • We learn by active experience + Instructing someone is not just telling them something but encouraging them to participate ->
  • We acquire knowledge through the use of reasoning, by constructing meaning from the information ->
  • This is a form of information processing ->
  • Knowing is a process, not a product.

Jerome Bruner

Born in New York City, Jerome Seymour Bruner was born the child of Polish immigrants. According to doctors, he was born blind and underwent cataract surgery at age 2 to be able to gain sight of his surroundings. At age 12, his father died of cancer. With his father gone, his mother moved the family constantly during his school years. Bruner studied psychology at Duke University, then at Harvard where he achieved a PhD in 1941.

Bruner served in the US Army's Office for Strategic Studies which was an intelligence unit during World War II. After the war, he returned to Harvard. In 1960, he cofounded the Center for Cognitive Studies with a fellow professor and close friend until the center closed in 1972. The ten years after, he taught at Oxford University in England. He continued to teach in the United States into his nineties.


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    • KBEvolve profile image

      Kenneth Brown 4 years ago from United States

      I would be curious about how this theory has been applied.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I am finding in my teaching that participation is king. Even if it is just a someone joining with a yea.