The Learning Theory of Piaget and Inhelder
By Jeanette McCarthy Gallagher and D. Kim Reid

This is the only book in English that clearly explains Jean Piaget's revised theory from his last books, some never before translated. It also applies that theory to education. Originally published in 1981, the book became available again in November 2002 through iUniverse, the print-on-demand publishing company. Purchasing information.

Book description

The first compilation of research and concepts from genetic epistemology that directly addresses issues related to learning, The Learning Theory of Piaget and Inhelder emphasizes Piaget's biological model and the importance of regulatory mechanisms, rather than stage theory. Consequently, the impact of feedback from observables in modifying the actions of a person engaged in an activity -- an idea not directly related to traditional learning theory -- is a key concept in this book. Furthermore, this text uniquely addresses Barbel Inhelder's important contributions to the Genevan School, particularly with respect to her empirical investigations of teaching-learning interactions and student strategizing.

The book also summarizes Piaget's latest thinking on equilibration as well as the Genevan studies on contradiction, awareness, reflexive abstraction, and correspondences as they relate directly or indirectly to learning of all children, including children with disabilities. Most significantly, this volume incorporates essential aspects of Piaget's biological model that were previously available only in untranslated works. Finally, easily accessible speeches on developmental psychology, the theory of stages, problems of equilibration and creativity given by Piaget and Inhelder are included in their entirety.

About the authors

Jeanette McCarthy Gallagher, Senior Professor at Temple University, trained as an experimental psychologist at Loyola and Harvard Universities. She lectures widely on Piaget's theory.

D. Kim Reid, Professor and Coordinator of Programs in Learning Disabilities, Teachers College, Columbia University, has many publications and lectures in the United States and abroad.

Authors' note

We are thrilled to be able to make this book available once again. It is the only book that focuses on the writings of Piaget and Inhelder as setting forth a learning theory. It is also the only book of this type that clearly explains Piaget's revised model of equilibration (contradiction as a motivator for learning) and the biological basis of learning.

Current psychological studies demonstrate learning's biological roots, so the learning theory derived from the writings of Piaget and Inhelder is a truly contemporary one of great importance.


"Gallagher and Reid have written a unique volume attempting to explicate the relevance of Piagetian theory as a description of learning... [They] have indeed made a significant contribution to the English literature on Piagetian theory." -- Irving E. Sigel, Contemporary Psychology, 1982.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Piaget and Inhelder

1. Genetic Epistemology as a Learning Theory
2. The Meaning of Genetic Epistemology
3. Learning and Development
4. The Concept of Stages; Sensorimotor and Representational Stages
5. Concrete Operations: Learning-Theory Aspects
6. Formal Operations: Learning-Theory Aspects
7. Genevan Learning Theory: The Research Foundation
8. Piaget and Education: An Overview
9. Exceptional Children and Special Education

Appendix A: Equilibration
Appendix B: Speeches by Piaget and Inhelder


Complete text of the Foreword by Piaget and Inhelder

We would like, first of all, to give warm thanks to the authors of this fine book for having asked us to write the Foreword. It is not often that one has the pleasure of receiving such a request. In this particular case, our pleasure is great because the book has real qualities.

The first of these qualities is that it reflects the authors' willingness -- we would even say the courage -- to present our ideas to a wide audience, which may not always be sufficiently informed to easily grasp them. These ideas have resulted from a long process of collaboration between us that still continues today. In fact, our work is not complete even with regard to the most important points. One misunderstanding of some authors, who may agree with us or criticize us, is to present our work as a finished product, when our interpretations and even the facts on which those interpretations are based are still in a state of reelaboration, as are the analyses of the experimental results on which our theories are founded. Even in regard to the central phenomenon of conservation, we have recently found simpler explanations based on just two ideas. First, all change of form is due only to displacements. Second, in all displacements that which is added at the point of arrival is necessarily equivalent to that which is taken away at the point of departure.

Another merit -- and without doubt, the principal one -- of the authors of this book is having understood the importance that the intimate connection between cognitive processes and their biological roots has had for us all along. The authors have, therefore, well understood the importance that the phenomenon of phenocopy actually has for us. That importance lies in the fact that exogenous acquisitions are replaced by endogenous reconstructions, which lead more and more to the subordination of the exterior acquisitions to inferential models.

Still another merit of this work is the authors' insistence on the revisions that the theory of equilibration requires every time progress occurs in any of the disciplines that make use of this notion. For example, we must today take into account the progress of physics in the direction of autoregulatory systems (the "dissipative structures" of Prigogine and others).

We are also pleased with the depth of the authors' understanding of our current view of the stages of cognitive development. Without putting them in question, we see the stages as dependent on their formative mechanisms (such as the evolution of the idea of the possible and the necessary), while retaining their role as necessary instruments of description and analysis.

The same is true of psychological structures, the analysis of which must be refined and rerefined -- which is what we are trying to do when we study the mechanisms of correspondence (morphisms and categories) as well as the role of the connections between actions or operations and not just between "statements" (without mentioning the formalizations to which our structures of groupings and others have given rise on the part of pure logicians such as Wermus and Wittman).

The only reservation we have about this book -- and a small one indeed -- is that the reader may not always be able to distinguish, especially in the more difficult passages, what comes from us and what is contributed by the authors of this work.

Finally, we wish to say how happy we are that the authors have so well understood the essential role that our collaboration has played in the development of our ideas in the course of a cooperation that has never ceased to be very close and fruitful.

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