Vygotsky’s Theory: How Relationships Empower Learning


Vygotsky’s theory of social development
argues that community and language play a central part in learning. While Jean
Piaget concluded that children’s cognitive development happens in stages,
Vygotsky rejected his ideas and believed that children develop independently of
specific stages as the result of social interactions.
Vygotsky claimed that we are born with four elementary mental functions:
attention, sensation, perception and memory. It is our social and cultural
environment that allows us to use these elementary skills to develop and finally
gain higher mental functions. This development
ideally happens in the zone of proximal development. First, there is what we can
do on our own. Then there is the zone of proximal development, which represents
what we can do with the help of an adult, a friend, technology, or what Vygotsky
called the “more knowledgeable other”. Last, there is what’s beyond our reach.
To illustrate this let us think of twins who were raised in a community in which
boys are expected to learn and succeed while girls are only expected to be
pretty. At the age of 10 months both have the ability to crawl and are in the zone
of proximal development for learning how to stand on their feet. The more
knowledgeable other, in this case the father, provides the boy with
opportunities to practice in a playroom that he is equipped with scaffolding and
other objects. The boy is encouraged to explore the equipment and eventually he
uses it to pull himself up. A few hours later he’s cruising along the structures
and a few days later he’s standing on his feet. The girl also has the potential
to stand but does not receive any support in learning the skill.
When we compare the two we see that while the girl is still trying to get up,
the boy has moved into a new zone. He knows how to balance while standing and
now has the potential to learn how to walk.
Both will eventually learn how to walk but according to Vygotsky the boy will
be more skilled. The same principles apply to all learning and the
development of higher cognitive functions and only those learning with
the assistance of a capable mentor can reach the full potential of their
ability. Vygotsky, therefore, believed that inside the Zone Of Proximal Development
learning can precede development, which means, that a child is able to learn
skills that go beyond their natural maturity. He also established an explicit
connection between speech and mental concepts, arguing that inner speech
develops from external speech via a gradual process of internalization. This
means that thought itself develops as a result of conversation.
Therefore younger children who don’t finish this process can only think out
loud. Once the process is complete inner speech and spoken language become
independent. Lev Vygotsky died of tuberculosis in
1934 at the age of 37. Despite his young age he became one of the most
influential psychologists of the 20th century. He left the following advice for
educators: by giving students practice in talking with others we give them frames
for thinking on their own. What do you think? Can a child learn anything
regardless of any developmental prerequisites? And do we learn only
through social and cultural contexts? And if so, do you think it is appropriate for
a more knowledgeable other to determine what a child should learn next? Share
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22 thoughts on “Vygotsky’s Theory: How Relationships Empower Learning”

  1. Learning without assistance develops other qualities like the ability to solve problems without help or thinking outside of the box.

  2. while this theory is effective and accurate for many , it also dosn't resonate with every child, since there are children who are biologically born smarter than others from diff factors, and i know a story in history where a women gave birth in a dessert to a boy , and the woman was sick, later when the boy grew up to became a doctor and healed his mother without dependence on what Vygotsky calls "the more knowledgeable other" other than his mother, so i consider his theory underdeveloped

  3. I don't think I quite get it and how the two methodologies differ. They both work in tandem. Your biology will not help you much at age 9 to do age 9 things if there isn't someone to help you do it. You'll get there eventually and with most likely less proficiency, because your biology requires you to do so. Obviously there are things that can't be done alone or are simply done way better with the help of someone. I don't find this interesting or new at all. It is seen and experienced by pretty much every person and I have never seen someone not mention it in some explicit or implicit form.

    Again, I may have misunderstood this but I don't get why this "theory" wouldn't be obvious to literally everyone.

  4. It is a very useful concept for teachers and parents…. especially for parents who think their children are not smart enough according to there age.. those children just need some care and attention

  5. Clearly kids can learn faster than adults due to their brain plasticity, but it's also very likely kids also learn thanks to their environment. Feedback plays a huge role in learning so this theory is quite amazing and useful

  6. I didn't know there was also gender discrimination (for the lack of term) in Vygotsky's theory. We never discussed this in our classes.

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