Vygotsky Learning Theory
Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky developed a learning theory for education based on one’s culture in the 1920s and 1930s. Even without a psychology background, he became fascinated by the subject. During his short life, he was influenced by the great social and political upheaval of the Marxist Revolution.
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After his death in 1934, his ideas were rejected by the U. S. S. R. and only resurfaced after the Cold War ended in 1991. Vygotsky’s theory has exceedingly influenced education in Russia and in other countries. Lev Vygotsky was born in Orsha, Western Russia, which is now Belarus in 1896.
Vygotsky was born into a typical middle-class Jewish family and grew up in a predominantly Jewish town of Gomel, roughly four hundred miles from Moscow (Kouzlin, 1990). He studied and graduated law from the University of Moscow on a Jewish scholarship. After graduation, he prepared his first research project in the psychology field in 1925 with The Psychology of Art, which was not published until the 1960s. Some time later, he became a psychologist working with Alexandar Luria and Alexei Leontiev (Gallagher, 1999). Lev Vygotsky’s socioculture theory begs to answer the question: What is culture and why is it important to a child’s learning.
Dr. Diane Bukatko, psychology professor, says culture is “the many facets of the environment that humans have created and continue to produce. . . But even more importantly, culture includes language and the practices, values, and beliefs accumulated and communicated from one generation to the next” (Bukatko, 2004). Vygotsky’s theory places an emphasis on the learner’s culture. Vygotsky believed that the “child’s cognitive growth must be understood in the content of the culture in which he or she lives” (Bukatko, 2004).
That is to say, he believed that a child is shaped by his or her own culture. Vygotsky believed that the social activity with “children, caregivers, peers, and tutors cultivate in them the particular skills and abilities their cultural group values” (Bukatko, 2004). This social activity is the backbone to his theory. Vygotsky had two main theories of cognitive development: the More Knowledgeable Other and the Zone of Proximal Development. The More Knowledgeable Other simply means that this is a person that has a higher understanding that the learner.
This may be teacher to student or it can be student to student. Vygotsky’s other major theory, Zone of Proximal Development is the “span or disparity between what children are able to do without the assistance of others and what they are often able to accomplish by having someone more expect assist them at key points” (Bukatko, 2004). Vygotsky believed that the most effective instruction took place just slightly above the learner’s current ability. There was a study done in which children were asked which items of wooden furniture when into a doll house.
Some children were allowed to play with their mother, the More Knowledgable Other, before they attempted it alone, while others were only allowed to do it by themselves. It was found that those who had previously worked with a More Knowledgable Other showed greatest improvement with their attempt than those who did not (McLeod, 2007). The most important of Vygotsky’s theories in regards to education is his Zone of Proximal Development. It gives the educator a scale defining what the learner is able to achieve with or without assistance and exactly at what level he or she can attain.
Based on his ZPD, Vygotsky believed that play is a “vehicle for a child behaving more maturely than at other times” and in play “children can work at the top of their Zone of Proximal Development” (Vygotsky, 1978). Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development shows what a child can learn with assistance. This can be a great tool in the teacher’s proverbial toolbox. His theories also gives a great understanding in children learning from each other and from the teacher based on the More Knowledgeable Other and sociocultural understanding.
Language and thought is sometimes believed to develop together. A child knows what a cat is before he can actually say the word. If the parent asks the child where the cat is, the child is able to point and correctly label the cat (assuming they have a cat as a pet, of course). This is directly in opposition to his idea that the child must know the spoken word “cat” before the child learns the concept. Vygotsky also believed that one’s culture is the defining growth characteristic in language and development. However, his theory states little on biological factors.