The Application of Vygotsky’s Approach to Child Development to Education today Essay

The concept of the social development has really attracted research from many scholars. The theory developed by the soviet psychologist, Lev Vygotsky has three components vital in the learning process; he believed that social interaction is an important element in a person’s cognitive development, he also believed in the competent other – anyone with a better understanding is able to help in the learning process and finally he believed in what he termed as the zone of proximal development (ZPD) and refers to the belief that there is a great different in learning between a learner who is assisted and the one without any assistance.

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According to vygotsky’s social constructivism theory, a child is able to learn by always following the examples set by adults and later gradually develops certain abilities that would enable him or her to perform some tasks without any assistance or help (Karpov, 2006). Just like many other educational scholars, Vygotsky strongly believed in the importance of education as the provider of experiences within the children’s ZPD which would then encourage and advance their personal learning.

It is the objective of this paper to illustrate how the concept of zone of proximal development and sociocultural interactions may be applied in today’s educational sector so as to improve learning in children. One of the main reasons why Vygotsky’s theory has been quite popular among educational scholars and the western society in general, is its focus on sociocultural understanding of human activities.

Moving away from the Piagetian concepts and studies that were focused on the biological explanations of human behavior, he captured the connection between the sociocultural processes within the societal set up and the mental processes within an individual. According to Bjorklund and Pellegrini (2000) Vygotsky brought a new concept and understanding that involves understanding the functions of social and cultural upbringing on an individual’s mental development.

It is for this reason that after over 70 years since he died, Vygotsky’s works have continued to attract many scholars. It will remain relevant and a perfect example in developing educational modules for learners especially the younger ones. Although the concept of ZPD has undergone numerous modification and expansion by educational scholars, the original concept developed by Vygotsky argued against the traditional teaching and learning methods that employ academic knowledge-based tests to evaluate the intelligence of learners.

He argued that instead of testing what learners know and what they don’t to determine their intelligence, it would be better if examiners test the learners’ ability to perform and finish certain tasks or problems independently as well as their abilities to perform the task with the help of a teacher or an adult (Karpov, 2006). Some the concepts developed later by sociocultural theorists using Vygotsky’s ZPD within the educational context can be relevant in today’s educational sector. One of the commonly known concepts which emerged from the Vygotsky’s ZPD is scaffolding.

Scaffolding may be defined as the process whereby an adult assists a child in learning by using focused questions and employing positive interaction. Based of the notion of building scaffolds, a child would be aided by his or her teacher and other competent persons based on his or her zone of proximal development and as the learner advances and improves in learning, the help is tapered off slowly and appropriately. This concept of learning is derived from vygotsky’s main theory which analyses the child’s private speech as the main mechanism through which an individual’s can be able to self-regulate (Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2000).

Vygotsky understood that connection between the social and psychological planes over which human functioning is based, is firmly rooted in the individual language and mental functioning. The development of a person’s ability can only be enhanced through interaction with other persons. In essence, it is individual’s socially meaning engagements that shapes his or her makeup. The most basic process through which a learner’s high mental functions can be formed is by using the psychological tools within the mediated activities aided by an adult or a competent fellow.

And once the mastery of the psychological tools is gained, the learner develops an access to a familiar regulation of his own behavior. While the original ideas of ZPD as a concept were to be used for testing and evaluating a learner’s ability to perform or solve tasks, it can be applied in examining other spheres of learning. One of the domains where ZPD can easily be used in today’s learning processes is in testing competence and skills. Researchers argue that within these domains are specialized zones of development.

These are individual, cultural and skill-oriented zones. Under the skill-oriented zones, studies in early childhood development have shown that children do learn to speak their native languages and generally develop their motor skills when placed in their ZPD. A child’s language and motor skills can therefore be developed faster when the concept of ZPD is applied in learning by an adult who shares the same language with the child (Karpov, 2006). One of the key areas where Vygotsky’s theories can be applied is the field of special education.

Since handicapped children are disadvantaged more than their non-handicapped peers, Vygotsky suggested that there is a need to have the handicapped children included in the social and cultural process of the community as a way of effectively rehabilitating and compensating them (Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2000). Although, his ideas on the education of those with special needs have never gain much prominence in the west, educational scholars agree that there is a need to have handicapped children get education in a more specialize environment that encourages learning and development processes.

According to Vygotsky, creating a new learning environment for children with disabilities would not only provide an alternative path for development but also a new means of communication. The new and special environment would provide the handicapped children with an opportunity to use available psychological tools which are most suitable to compensate for their specific shortcomings. One of the reasons why this idea has now been popular among the western scholar is because of its advocacy for social isolation of those with special needs.

However, with the current agitation for more differentiated educational programs, only special learning environment would help a handicapped learner develop his or her higher psychological functions as well as general personality. As Vygotsky argued, special education would only be effective as a system if it uses specific methods; this is because of the fact that students with special needs require not only modified but also alternative learning programs (Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2000). Vygotsky’s social development theory offers a challenge to the conventional teaching methodologies.

Many educational institutions are known to employ the common instructionist model whereby a teacher is solely responsible for transmitting knowledge and information to learners (Crawford, 1996). Contrary to this approach, the social development theory offers learning contexts whereby learners assume active roles in the learning processes. In this context teachers should shift roles with their students and collaborate in learning such that construction of meaning in students is facilitated.

The focus here should be on how students are able to internalized ideas and ‘psychological tools’ which only happens in an interactive environment between the teacher and the student. This approach to the current learning processes comes from Vygotsky’s belief that cooperative and interactive activities is the first step in developing complex thinking and comprehension which is then internalized and used by the learner (Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2000).

The social development theory is most applicable in the current quest to have the most effective differentiated learning programs. Because children and learners in general come from different social and cultural backgrounds, understanding their diversity as well as their particular needs is paramount in helping students progress in their academics. Differentiated educational programs calls for paying attention to individual needs and taking into account the fact that learners differ in readiness for new knowledge acquisition.

Such differences in learning processes are products of cultural and cognitive development which is well analyzed by Vygotsky as the key components of learning processes (Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2000). Differentiated programs also agitate for isolation if necessary in order to increase the level of interaction between the students and teachers, thus enhancing comprehension of ideas and knowledge. Social interaction between the teacher or competent peer and the learner is one of the key elements of Vygotsky’s theory. He believes that learning can be enhanced through more social interaction (Crawford, 1996).

Vygotsky’s social development theory will remain one of the important theories to the educational and psychological development scholars for many years to come. He offers a most relevant approach not only during his time but also to the current educational challenges. Teacher should focus on providing assistance to learners in need as well as cultural tools as learning resources. They should also provide room for peer and group learning so as to have students support and learn from each other through interaction and discovery process.

This is more relevant in current diverse classroom where the teacher is required to be more sensitive to the needs of his or her students based on their respective cultural background and language skills.


Bjorklund, D. F. & Pellegrini, A. D. (2000). Child Development and Evolutionary Psychology. Child Development, Vol. 71, 1687-1708. Crawford, K. (1996). Vygotskian Approaches to Human Development in the Information Era. Educational Studies in Mathematics. 31: 43-62. Karpov, Y. V. (2006). The Neo-Vygotskian Approach to Child Development, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

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