Gestaltism: understanding Gestalt theory

Gestaltism or Gestalt theory, or form psychology, is a psychological theory that describes how people learn. You can find out the basics of this theory by reading this article.

Gestaltism: definition 

In broad outline, Gestalt theory states that we perceive objects as unified wholes. It was invented by the Austrian philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels at the beginning of the 20th century. Despite the fact that a large number of separate images and shapes are visible, our brain tries to group them together. Gestalt literally means “whole” or “unified”.

According to this theory, the combined effect of all stimuli, such as verbal and nonverbal communication, is greater than the effect of the individual components; the individual components should be informed rather than categorized. 

New information is taught alongside previously learned information, so that no piece of information exists on its own, but rather is part of a unified lesson plan. 

Gestalt theory focuses on how humans reflect, specifically how we learn using similar objects or other senses such as sound and smell. 

When you see an object on the table, your brain completes all the details based on your previous experiences with similar objects or from other senses. According to Gestalt theory, we acquire these associations without being taught them: we experience them as a natural response to a stimulus.

Wolfgang Kohler first proposed this concept in 1912 and many psychologists have since developed it, including Max Wertheimer (1923), Kurt Koffka (1935) and many others.

Examples of activity based on gestaltism

Gestalt theorists believe that learning is more beneficial for students if they focus on how their knowledge uses it in their daily lives. They therefore prefer to emphasize the importance of understanding rather than memorizing and retrieving information.

Learning is based on perception. Before things fall into place, learning can begin with sudden coincidences. The core of learning is perceptual reorganization. Learning gives learning objects their value: far from being mere connections between separate elements, perception allows us to discover internal relationships.

  • Example of mathematics

The Rectangle Area Ruler: To check the area rule of a rectangle, you can cut the rectangle. In the 1st grade textbook, small children are asked to group similar shapes (triangles).

In the 6th year, the teacher can invite the pupils to calculate the surface of a strange shape. We find the right shape by rearranging .

  • Reading example

Global reading is a good example. It was Decroly who developed this reading method.
Global reading relies on perception.

The principles of Gestaltism

Gestalt refers to the idea that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is why, according to Gestalt theory, learning is not limited to mechanically asking for answers from learners. 

Gestalt theory is based on laws of organization already present in the human mind and on the way perceptions are defined. Gestalt theorists believe that the way learners perceive and experience things has a big impact on their learning. 

In other words, Gestalt is the study of how people organize learning by examining their lived experiences and consciousness. Learning is best done when teaching is linked to their real-life experiences. Human beings have the ability to create a map of the stimuli caused by these experiences. This process is called isomorphism.

The law of good form 

It is the main law from which the others flow. It is a set of informed parts (like random groupings of dots). It is generally perceived first as a form, which is simple, symmetrical, stable and overall beautiful.

When the brain sees only part of an image, it attempts to create a complete image. This phenomenon does not only apply to images, but also to thoughts, emotions and sounds.

According to Gestalt theory, the human brain structures learning elements that are close together in a way that makes sense as a whole, rather than as individual components. It is a behavioral law observed in areas such as reading and music, where letters and words or musical notes make no sense when considered separately, but form a whole story or song when the human brain brings them together. 

Gestalt learning helps learners develop and improve critical thinking by depending on like groups and contrasting them with dissimilar groups.

The “proximity law”

This is the next organizational law of Gestalt theory. 

When we look around, our eyes usually ignore space and focus on complete objects. This invokes the “figure-ground” effect. 

When learning new thoughts and ideas, the brain creates connections, or “traces.” They represent these links between concepts and images. This organizational law is called “theory of traces” . 

Gestalt theory placed a strong emphasis on higher-order cognitive processes. It encourages learners to apply increased problem-solving skills. They should notice the connections between the ideas and perceptions presented, and then try to find them. In this way, they can recognize and identify specific relationships between these ideas and perceptions. 

Gestalt learning theory states that the presentation of information or images containing gaps and shifts is essential for learning. This type of learning requires a process of review and deliberation, as opposed to rote memorization. Instead of providing answers, the student must examine and think about them to get the answers they are looking for. 

The Law of Proximity describes how the human eye relies on visual elements that are close to each other. Visual elements that are close to each other are perceived to be connected compared to elements that are far from each other. For example, spaces can be used to establish perceived relationships between different elements through the law of proximity.

When we read a text, we give meaning to the whole by understanding the links between expressions, words and sentences. Paraphrase sentences and paragraphs, and you will see that they signify connections between ideas, anecdotes or arguments. Typically, the author pulls together pieces of related information using paragraphs to connect them. If you need to discuss a different topic, you should write a new paragraph.

The law of continuity

Close dots tend to represent shapes. We first perceive them in continuity, as extensions of each other.

The law of similarity

When we cannot group the points because of the distance, we will look for the nearest points to find a shape. 

The Closing Law

The more a structure is finite, the easier it is to recognize it as a figure (or a form) rather than an open structure. We close the unclosed figures. We tend to group things together that are similar because of the law of similarity.

The law of common destiny

When we perceive moving elements as part of the same shape, we automatically perceive them as part of the same trajectory and moving at the same speed. The principles of the Gestalt relating to the “common destiny” are very distinctly linked to this instinctive need for human survival.

Using Gestalt learning principles in teaching can help students better absorb information. 

Gestalt theories develop in response to behaviorism , and other theories have evolved from Gestalt learning theory in various forms. Gestalt theories are a family of cognitive-interactionist theories. 

According to Gestalt theory, an individual is a complex person. In addition, the methods used to educate him make it possible to identify the blockage in the absorption of new knowledge. The problems are presented as a complete unit in an attempt to remove any mental blocks from the learner and allow new information to be recorded. 

According to the Gestalt theory, an individual is a whole person and the pedagogical strategies used to teach him make it possible to identify the mental blocks that could prevent him from absorbing new information. The problems are presented as a whole in order to remove the mental blocks of the learner and the new information. 

Difference Between Behaviorism and Gestaltism

Gestalt psychology and behaviorism differ in the topics they cover. And also the way they perceive human nature. According to behaviorism, human behavior is determined solely by observable behaviors. That is, it can be encouraged through rewards and punishments, which is different from Gestalt psychology’s perspective on the subject. Gestalt psychology believes that hereditary characteristics, past experiences, and age all play a role in determining our reactions to events happening around us.

Educational Importance of Gestalt Theory

The contribution of Gestalt psychology to education lies in its ideas about the organization and understanding of stimuli. The child’s school world is not just a collection of discrete stimuli, but it has structure and meaning. The child is able to understand things, he has intuition. 

Arithmetic is more than a collection of numbers. The course of history is not just a list of events in chronological order, one event after another. An intelligent child can understand the concept of addition by combining three and four. This is why educators believe that Gestalt psychology is correct. 

According to Gestalt psychologists, teachers should approach the problem of learning in a more holistic way. For learning to take place, meaningful connections must be discovered and understanding of the material arises. The learner must discover and generalize the relationships for themselves through their learning experiences. To do this, we must organize matter into larger units or sets. Unit planning is based on this idea. 

Fragments of the daily lesson plan leave many students with just piles of knowledge, skills, principles, and ideas without a clear picture of the whole. It is not uncommon for lessons to be broken down into four or five parts. But when the first and last periods of a lesson don’t make a connection, students are left confused. The students are not able to see the big picture, which makes it difficult to assimilate the material. 

When students like a poem, pop, song, or picture, they like it as a whole. When a flower is as beautiful as its individual parts, when a flavor of lemonade cannot be analyzed into coldness and yellowness, and a flavor of lemonade cannot be analyzed into coldness and yellowness and taste, it is impossible to analyze the taste in coldness and yellowness and taste. This is why poetry cannot be taught in the same way as prose. It should be taught as much as possible as a whole, and not for grammatical or translation reasons. 


In education, Gestalt theory has been applied as a reaction to behaviorism. This theory reduced experiences to simple stimulus-response type thoughts.

The Gestalt suggested that students should perceive the whole learning objective. Then they discover the relationships between the parts and the whole. This means that teachers must provide the basic framework for the lesson in the form of an organized and meaningful structure. Then they go into the details.

This would help students understand the relationship between the contents and the overall lesson objective. Problem-based learning methodologies also emerged based on Gestalt principles.

When we expose students to the whole of an issue, they can make sense of it before engaging in introspective reflection. They analyze the connection between the elements and develop independent solutions.


  • Ehrenfels, CV (1937). On Gestalt-qualities. Psychological Review ,  44 (6), 521.
  • Wertheimer, M. (1938). Laws of organization in perceptual forms.
  • Wertheimer, M., & Riezler, K. (1944). Gestalt theory. Social Research , 78–99.
  • Kohler, W. (1970). Gestalt psychology: An introduction to new concepts in modern psychology . WW Norton & Company.
  • Koffka, K. (2013). Principles of Gestalt psychology  (Vol. 44). Routledge.

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