Vygotsky takes a different approach to Piaget’s idea that development precedes learning.
Instead, he reckons that social learning is an integral part of cognitive development and it is
culture, not developmental Stage that underlie cognitive development. Because of that, he
argues that learning varies across cultures rather than being a universal process driven by the
kind of structures and processes put forward by Paiget.
Zone of Proximal Development.
He makes a big deal of the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development in which children and
those they are learning from co-construct knowledge. Therefore, the social environment in
which children learn has a massive impact on how they think and what they think about.
They also differ on how they view language. For Piaget, thought drives language but for
Vygotsky, language and thought become intertwined at about 3 years and become a sort of
internal dialogue for understanding the world.
And where do they get that from? Their social environment of course, which contains all the
cognitive/linguistic skills and tools to understand the world.
Vygotsky talks about Elementary Mental Functions , by which he means the basic cognitive
processes of Attention, Sensation, Perception and Memory.
By using those basic tools in interactions with their sociocultural environment, children sort of
improve them using whatever their culture provides to do so. In the case of Memory, for
example, Western cultures tend towards note-taking, mind-maps or mnemonics whereas other
cultures may use different Memory tools like storytelling.
In this way, cultural variation of learning can be described quite nicely.
What are crucial in this learning theory are the ideas of Scaffolding, the Zone of Proximal
Development ( ZPD ) and the More Knowledgeable Other ( MKO ). Here’s how all that works:
More Knowledgeable Other.
The MKO can be (but doesn’t have to be) a person who literally knows more than the child.
Working collaboratively, the child and the MKO operate in the ZPD, which is the bit of learning
that the child can’t do on their own.
As the child develops, the ZPD gets bigger because they can do more on their own and the
process of enlarging the ZPD is called Scaffolding .
How to Study. The ULTIMATE Study Plan.
Knowing where that scaffold should be set is massively important and it’s the MKO’s job to do
that so that the child can work independently AND learn collaboratively.
For Vygotsky, language is at the heart of all this because a) it’s the primary means by which the
MKO and the child communicate ideas and b) internalising it is enormously powerful in
cementing understanding about the world.
That internalisation of speech becomes Private Speech (the child’s “inner voice”) and is distinct
from Social Speech , which occurs between people.
Over time, Social Speech becomes Private Speech and Hey Presto! That’s Learning because
the child is now collaborating with themselves!
The bottom line here is that the richer the sociocultural environment, the more tools will be
available to the child in the ZPD and the more Social Speech they will internalise as Private
Speech. It doesn’t take a genius to work out, therefore, that the learning environment and
interactions are everything.