Down through the years psychologists and individuals involved in education have developed and investigated different theories about how children learn. To understand how children receive and use information is of great value to parents, teachers and indeed society in general as the children of today are tomorrow’s adults and our society will not develop if our children cannot learn effectively. In this essay I will discuss the theories of Lev Vygotsky as I believe his work has become the foundation for a lot of our modern day theories and concepts in regard to a child’s cognitive development.
Lev Vygotsky was born in Russia in 1896 during the Russian Revolution and his works only came to the attention of the western world when they were published in 1962. Vygotsky died quite young and a lot of his research was unfinished however his work was continued by his students and followers alike. Vygotskys theory of Socio-cultural or Social Development as it is also known was the building block for the concepts and stratagies now used in our pre-schools and schools today. Unlike Piaget who believed that development preceeds learning, Vygotsky believed that to develop, a child must learn first.
He rightly believed that the most effective learning comes from a child’s social interaction in society and the cultural they are reared in. Social factors and culture contribute to a child’s cognitive development. Vygotsky believed that society gave a child various cultural tools which enabled learning, language being one of the most important. Language is the primary form of interaction and through language a child can communicate thoughts, emotions, opinions and ideas and develop friendships.
A child’s level of language skills can and most likely will effect all other aspects of their development both personally and academically. Through my research I see that Vygotskys concept, the zone of proximal development, which is Vygotsky’s term for the range of tasks too difficult for children to master alone but which can be learned with the guidance and asistance of adults or more skilled chilren, is widely used today in learning institutions worldwide, its concept is used in most subjects and used very effectively with a broad spectrum of students, ranging from disadvantaged, special needs, and “gifted” students to adults.
Within this concept Vygotsky talks about “Scaffolding” which basically means changing the level of support as the student becomes more capable in a task or subject. Another concept which is interlinked with the above is The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The MKO refers to anyone who has a better understanding or a greater ability than the student, in respect to a particular task 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. As I read and study these concepts I can clearly see their incorporation into our education system today compared to when I was a child starting out in school forty years ago. Although systems where evolving gradually, there were very different opinions and methods in place regarding education.