3.5.2Theory of Social Development

3.5.2Theory of Social Development

The work of Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) has become the foundation of much research and theory in cognitive development over the past several decades, particularly of what has become known as Social Development Theory.

Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory argues that social interaction precedes development; consciousness and cognition are the end product of socialization and social behavior. Vygotsky has developed a socio-cultural approach to cognitive development.  He strongly believed that community plays a central role in the process of "making meaning." He argued, "Learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human psychological function" (1978, p. 90).  In other words, social learning tends to proceed (i.e. come before) development.

Vygotsky’s theory is one of the foundations of constructivism. It asserts three major themes.

Major themes:

  • 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 (inter-psychological) and then inside the child (intra-psychological).” (Vygotsky, 1978).
  • 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.
  • 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.