Knowing with New Media

'We can define adaptation as an equilibrium between assimilation
and accommodation.'

Piaget, 1950

Piaget's understanding of intellectual growth is the process of  actively absorbing the surrounding world into biological and psychological structures, organised into an individual's unique personal world.

Such assimilation takes place through a continuous redesign of
existing cognitive organisations to accommodate new data.

This process facilitates an expansion and elaboration of the existing mental structures, provoking transformation of the self and thus causing intellectual growth
in the knower.



The notion of adaptation as the process of knowing was developed by Jean Piaget (1950).

According to Piaget, an individual assimilates new knowledge into their existing cognitive structures by being an active agent, rather than a passive recipient of given material. Being an active agent involves testing the resistance of circumstances, and recognising the objective properties of things and the subjective relationships between them. By doing so, the individual redesigns themselves in congruence with the surrounding world.

In Ripples' learning, the synthesis of the concepts of embodied mind, self-organisation and autopoiesis is viewed as the process of adaptation (re-equilibration) between assimilation (acting on self-assertive tendencies) and accommodation (friction and acknowledgment of the natural and socio-cultural world).

This is a non-linear process. It is activated by ongoing oscillating feedback loops between assimilation accommodation, achieved through the application of divergence convergence and examined through individual curiosity conventional wisdom.

The newly constructed knowledge, therefore, is formed by a 'churning' of existing 'perception and habit to symbolic behaviour and memory, and to the higher operations of reasoning and formal thought'
(Piaget, 1950, p. 9).

Adaptation = Assimilation Accommodation


'Mental assimilation is the incorporation of objects into patterns of behaviour.

Accommodation is modifying the assimilatory cycle by accommodating new information into its existing mental structures.'

Piaget, 1950


The Ripples'

of Piaget's concept

of cognitive adaptation

When facing a dilemma an image stored in memory
can pop into the mind.
For example, crossing a stream could evoke an image
of a paved path.

The image can become a stimulus for recreating something similar to the known path, using available objects and materials.

This is an act of assimilation — allowing a new situation to assimilate into the existing mental schemata.

In addressing challenging circumstances, such as:

• weight of the rocks to be carried

• sinking of the rocks under the weight of the body, and

• balancing the body on the rocks

the mental schemata undergo some structural changes to accommodate the new components.



In accommodating these challenges new mental connections can be made and additional elements can be added to improve the initial construction.

Every new step is a feedback loop between assimilation of the new information into the existing schema and accommodation-modification of the schema to integrate new connections
and expand existing knowledge and skills.

This part of the process is accommodation, facilitated by the plasticity of the mental schemata. It allows internal modification
to incorporate new information and develop new skills.


New connections and elements of knowledge
are always built on existing schemata.

Psychologically, we again find the same process in the sense that the pressure of circumstances always leads not to a passive submission to them, but to simple modification of the action affecting them.

(Piaget, 1959, p. 8)




Essential Ripples:

Divergence Convergence

Representing Meaning-making

Stability Plasticity

Assimilation Accommodation

Jean Piaget










Elements from existing knowledge are activated in response to associations with the situation that needs to be addressed

The external situation is 'taken into the mind structures' where  connections between the activated elements of existing knowledge and the situation at hand are made

Operating on the circularity of feedback loops between existing knowledge and external conditions, the mind structures change in response to new experiences, resulting in the production of new concepts

assimilation accommodation

accommodation adaptation




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