What Is Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Learning Theory?
by TeachThought Staff
What did Vygotsky say about learning?
“Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of human learning describes learning as a social process and the origination of human intelligence in society or culture. The major theme of Vygotsky’s theoretical framework is that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. Vygotsky believed everything is learned on two levels. First, through interaction with others, and then integrated into the individual’s mental structure.”
Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory, also known as the Sociohistorical Theory, is a psychological and educational framework developed by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. This theory emphasizes the role of social interactions, cultural context, and language in shaping cognitive development. According to Vygotsky, learning and development are inseparable from the social and cultural contexts in which individuals participate.
He believed that learning had both chronological and psychological facets, explaining: “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). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.”
Let’s take a look at the principles of his learning theory.
Key Concepts of Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory
1. Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
According to Vygotsky, the Zone Of Proximal Development “is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.”
Through collaborative interactions, a more skilled person, such as a teacher or a peer, can provide support to scaffold the learner’s understanding and skills.
This ‘zone’ is a level of understanding or ability to use a skill where the learner is able, from a knowledge or skill standpoint, to grasp or apply the idea but only with the support of a ‘More Knowledgeable Other’ (Briner, 1999).
This ‘MKO’ can be another student, parent, teacher, etc.–anyone with a level of understanding or skill that allows the student to master the knowledge or skill that couldn’t otherwise be mastered. Strategies that support work in this Zone of Proximal Development include modeling, direct instruction, collaborative learning, the concept attainment theory, Combination Learning, and more.
See also 32 Learning Theories For Teachers
2. Social Interaction
Vygotsky emphasized the importance of social interactions in cognitive development. He believed that learning occurs through interactions with others, particularly more knowledgeable individuals. Language plays a central role in these interactions, as it enables communication, the transmission of knowledge, and the development of higher mental processes.
Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory said that “Learning occurs through vicarious reinforcement–observing a behavior and its consequences (which have social ramifications).” Vygotsky shares this idea.
3. Cultural Tools and Mediation
Vygotsky argued that cultural tools, including language, symbols, artifacts, and social practices, mediate learning and development. These tools are products of a particular culture and are used by individuals to think, communicate, and solve problems. Through cultural tools, individuals internalize and construct knowledge, transforming their cognitive processes.
Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level;
Vygotsky, 1978, p.57)
Scaffolding is any help, assistance, or support provided by a more competent individual (e.g., a teacher) to facilitate a learner’s understanding and skill development. The scaffolding occurs by gradually adjusting the level of support according to the learner’s needs, and transferring responsibility to the learner as their competence increases.
Scaffolding, and similar ideas like The Gradual Release Of Responsibilty Model: Show Me, Help Me, Let Me.
5. Private Speech and Self-Regulation
In his research, Vygotsky noticed that young children often engage in private speech, talking to themselves as they carry out activities.
He believed private speech is important in self-regulation and cognitive development, a truth clear to parents and teachers but important here as a data point observed by a neutral observer in a research environment. Further, over time, this ‘private speech’ becomes internalized and transforms into inner speech, which is used for self-guidance and problem-solving.