Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory
Vygotsky’s work is often placed with this theory because of the emphasis he placed on the
importance of social interaction to learn language. Another influential author, M.A.K.
Halliday, believes that children learn language out of need to function in society: “Babies
acquire language in order to survive, have their needs met, and express themselves”
Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory is the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky
(1896-1934), who lived during Russian Revolution. his work was largely unkown to the
West until it was published in 1962.
Vygotsky created a model of human development now called the sociocultural model. He
believed that all cultural development in children is visible in two stages:
• First, the child observes the interaction between other people and then the
behavior develops inside the child. This means that the child first observes the
adults around him communicating amongst themselves and then later develops the
ability himself to communicate.
• Vygotsky also theorized that a child learns best when interacting with those around
him to solve a problem. At first, the adult interacting with the child is responsible for
leading the child, and eventually, the child becomes more capable of problem
solving on his own. This is true with language, as the adult first talks at the child
and eventually the child learns to respond in turn. The child moves from gurgling to
baby talk to more complete and correct sentences.
Vygotsky’s theory is one of the foundations of constructivism. It asserts three major
1. Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive
development. In contrast to Jean Piaget’s understanding of child development (in
which development necessarily precedes learning), Vygotsky felt social learning
precedes development. He states: “Every function in the child’s cultural
development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual
level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child
(intrapsychological).” (Vygotsky, 1978).
2. The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The MKO refers to anyone who has a
better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a
particular task, process, or concept. The MKO is normally thought of as being a
teacher, coach, or older adult, but the MKO could also be peers, a younger person,
or even computers.
3. The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is the distance between a
student’s ability to perform a task under adult guidance and/or with peer
collaboration and the student’s ability solving the problem independently. According
to Vygotsky, learning occurred in this zone.
Vygotsky focused on the connections between people and the sociocultural context in
which they act and interact in shared experiences (Crawford, 1996). According to
Vygotsky, humans use tools that develop from a culture, such as speech and writing, to
mediate their social environments. Initially children develop these tools to serve solely as
social functions, ways to communicate needs. Vygotsky believed that the internalization of
these tools led to higher thinking skills.Applications of the Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory
Many schools have traditionally held a transmissionist or instructionist model in which a
teacher or lecturer ‘transmits’ information to students. In contrast, Vygotsky’s theory
promotes learning contexts in which students play an active role in learning. Roles of the
teacher and student are therefore shifted, as a teacher should collaborate with his or her
students in order to help facilitate meaning construction in students. Learning therefore
becomes a reciprocal experience for the students and teacher.