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A is for Assimilation v Accomodation

Updated: May 20, 2022

Assimilation and accommodation are important aspects of a growth mindset and lifelong learning. Your schema or cognitive framework allows you to understand the world around you. Schema can be described as like a shortcut in your mind to the information you need during the learning process. Schema are fluid and constantly evolving allowing us to process what we see, read, and feel. Most learning employs these schemas as existing belief systems.

Assimilation was originally described by developmental psychologist Jean Piaget (1896 -1980). We assimilate new information or experiences when we encounter and process a new idea or situation, making sense of it by relating it to things that we already know, and then ‘fit’ or add that idea into our existing understanding of the world without changing the basic schema or belief system. Put simply, when you learn new information, you assimilate that information into your current belief system; it could be likened to putting something new into a container that already exists.

The process of assimilation is relatively subjective, because we tend to modify our experience or the information to fit in with our pre-existing beliefs. We all come across new information about the world around us daily. Most people tend to be fixed in their existing beliefs, therefore they assimilate new knowledge rather than changing their belief system.

Accommodation on the other hand requires more effort and requires us to develop new schemas (or shortcuts) or replace them with new ones through the process of learning i.e. we reshape our existing containers to accommodate old ideas that are being changed or even replaced based on new information.

Piaget thought that the processes of assimilating and accommodating were interactive (one affecting the other) and capable of overlapping.

Our cultural background affects our schema. If we experience a rich, diverse, varied childhood it can provide a ‘schema’ that is more readily able to accept new ideas, and/or an increased sense of self-efficacy when faced with fresh ideas. The diverse experiences we encounter, whether academic or not, are relevant regardless; schema is cultural because we’re human. This difference is important to remember when applied to the teaching/learning situation i.e. 'one size does not fit' all and therefore approaches need to be different to incorporate our diverse cultural backgrounds and life experiences. We enlarge our capacity for understanding when we have the ability to look at things from different perspectives and have time to reflect and follow through trains of thought.

If we encounter something new without assimilating or accommodating it–or without being capable of assimilating or accommodating it–we will ‘fail to understand’ and apply what we have discovered. In order to incorporate whatever new thing we encounter, it has to be studied further if we want (or need to) understand it more otherwise we are likely to simply reject or forget it and the opportunity for learning and growth will fade away.

My brain is always working and whirring and I definitely need to make the time for assimilation and accommodation in order to process everything that I have discovered whilst writing the (now) fifth series of 26 posts of A to Z and incorporate them in my life.

Some of the research and posts to date I have felt just reinforced my understanding but there are others that have made me stop and rethink and refine my thinking or have introduced me to stuff that I was completely unaware of.

In case you have missed any blog posts or want to reflect on the various subjects again, here are the direct links to the first five series to date:

Some questions to think about/or discuss below:

Which topics were new to you?

Which topics did you find the most interesting?

Which topics would you be interested in learning more about or sharing with us about in the future?

If you want to reflect more on this subject of assimilation and accomodation, here are a few links to get you started:

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Reflective Resources
Reflective Resources
Jan 27, 2021

This topic was inspired because I often wondered why some things stuck in your head and other things didn't


Jan 27, 2021

I was unaware of Assimilation v Accommodation. I read it a couple of times to get my head around it.

I enjoyed 'Lifelong learning' because I believe that it's important for our mental health and it keeps our aging brains sharp and engaged.

Also found the 'Observing Self' topic useful because although I have read 'The Happiness Trap' by Russ Harris I benefited from being reminded of the subject and thought I had forgotten most of it but realised it was still tucked away somewhere in my brain lol!

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