The concepts of assimilation and accommodation relate to Piaget’s theories of child development and through the course of his research he produced several examples of assimilation and accommodation to illustrate the theories he was expounding.
What do the terms assimilation and accommodation actually mean?
Piaget was an expert in the field of child development and throughout his career he spent a great deal of time studying how children learn new things and make sense of their environment as they grow and mature. During the course of his extensive research, Piaget devised two terms, assimilation and accommodation, to describe the process of learning and adaptation.
Assimilation was the term used to describe the learning process through which a child picks up new concepts and ideas and moulds them to fit existing concepts and ideas. Accommodation is different to assimilation. Here a child is faced with new ideas and concepts, but instead of assimilating them to fit, he has to change his viewpoint to accommodate the new information.
What are some examples of assimilation and accommodation?
Assimilation can be described as adding sand to an existing pile of sand. You can keep adding sand, but although the pile will keep growing larger, it will not fundamentally alter in any way. When we assimilate new information, we add it to what we already know (our “schema”). Nothing really changes other than the fact more information has been added to the existing pile of information.
When using this concept to describe assimilation we could say that a child’s schema of a dog would be that all dogs have four legs, lots of fur, and they bark. Over time a child comes to know that dogs can look different and be all shapes and sizes, but each time they meet a new dog, they simply add the new information to the existing pool of information about dogs.
Accommodation is different in that the existing pile of sand has to be changed into something different—in other words, our pile of sand is added to water and cement and then turned into concrete.
As an example of accommodation, we could stick to our dog example and say that although the child recognizes all dogs are different, as far as she understands, dogs are pets and live in people’s homes. Until one day the child learns that some dogs actually do a job and are not pets, for example bomb disposal dogs or hearing dogs for the deaf. This new found piece of knowledge forces the child to make a shift in their “schema” of how they perceive a dog, or in other words, they have to accommodate the information.
In reality, although Piaget described accommodation and assimilation as two fundamentally different learning processes, they cannot be separated. As the child grows and absorbs new information like a sponge, the processes of assimilation and accommodation take place simultaneously, and in recognition of this fact, Piaget came up with the term “equilibration” to describe how children strike a balance between accommodation and assimilation.