Lev Vygotsky was a believer in the notion that nurture was a more influential factor than nature in terms of the idea that children develop differently across universal cultures and social environments. His infamous ideology that connected social interactions and culture to cognitive development is known as the Sociocultural Theory of Development. The stem of his theory believed that cognitive growth and skill development are led by a process of interactions within a child’s domain that’ll eventually alter ways of actions, behaviors, and thinking to which discoveries are made. Ultimately, advocating that children learn better and more effectively through guided participation. As mentioned by Vygotsky (1978), “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (inner psychological) and then inside the child (intro psychological)” (57). In this paper, we will delve into detail about the social aspect and the impact these influences of interactions have on cognitive development and collaborative learning in the eyes of Vygotsky.
The two major elements that underlie the theory of social influence on cognitive learning and development are based on the central concepts of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). Vygotsky’s notion entailed that every developing child has a ZPD that is the range of what a child can accomplish amongst themselves vs. what they can accomplish with participation and guidance from another individual. This individual, known as the MKO, is usually a family member, educator, or higher capable peer and plays a collaborative effort to help a child better understand a task or concept. This line of help and support must be tailored to a child’s mental capacity and capability to which Vygotsky emphasizes as scaffolding. In addition, Vygotsky has also advocated a method known as reciprocal teaching as a social reinforcement for educators to work equally with their students as a guided mentor rather than a director. To put a case in point, Neil J. Salkind (2004) states, “the educator should think of scaffolding not as a structure, but as a form of support for a structure the child is building, a set of techniques that he or she can use to encourage and reward the child for going beyond his or her current state of experience” (284). In all, the basis of these principles is believed to be where true learning of ideas and newfound discoveries occur by a social aspect.
Moving forward, it wasn’t until later years following Vygotsky’s sudden death that his research was discovered and vigorously translated. As a result, much of his research and findings were left unfinished or undeveloped and therefore left no empirical evidence to support his findings. In addition, this theoretical social method approach lacked specific testable hypotheses that made attempts for disproof challenging and nearly impossible (McLeod, 2018). Yet, his theories and observations have played an impactful association for the way we perceive cognitive development in young minds by the means of social interactions.
As mentioned above, in the eyes of Vygotsky, sociocultural factors and instruction are one of the main driving forces of child and adolescent cognitive development. By a grand scheme, Vygotsky’s focus on cognition and learning processes derives from a social constructivist viewpoint. By this, this social framework allows children to be in control of their own knowledge as active learners through what they make of their own social and cultural experiences. Furthermore, the strengths of this theory have led educational notions in support of student-centered learning, active participation, improvement of social skills, and supportive insight for teaching implications. However, Vygotsky has also been a subject for major criticisms as a result of the ambiguity of his research due to his untimely death. These topics for concern in regards to the social aspect of his theory are noted for being: overly optimistic, having an unclear measure of child’s zone of proximal development, lack of genetic factors, insecurities for misleading information by unskilled professionals, and overestimating social reinforcements...
Moreover, throughout the modern-day, the application of this social and cognitive theory has been used as a host in the contexts of educational fields for teaching methods and learning through games and imaginative play. By applying this theory in the classroom teachers can account for and strategize activities for children that will meet the goals within the scope of children’s early development for utter achievement. For instance, the use of scaffolding as a theoretical framework would entail the teacher (MKO) to be an active participant by guiding instruction through modeling, gestures, verbal clues, and thorough explanations until the child can perform without their set guidance. More specifically, a child who has difficulty reading certain words in a sentence independently is more likely to effectively sound out and remember those words following the assistance of an MKO. This type of aid may involve slow pronunciations, descriptions, or repetitions of words between the child and facilitator within its range of ZPD. To emphasize, “Teachers must actively assist and promote the growth of their students, so the students can develop the skills they need to fully participate in our society” (Blake & Pope, 2008, 63). In like manner, attributes for social learning have been also supported and highlighted by Vygotsky through symbolic play with adults such as caregivers and higher capable peers in playgroups. This exploration in imaginary situations falls under the creation and expansion of a child’s ZPD and promotes social activities for children to follow and learn certain rules for behavior as well as separation of thoughts between actions and objects (Berk, 1994). By this, children can enhance their knowledge as an active participate in games such as a house, playground activities, or make-believe. To an extent, the magnitude of following this grand theory all gear to interpret cognitive growth and change in behaviors and thought through efforts of joint problem-solving, social skills, and social participation.
All in all, Lev Vygotsky among many influential scholars has made major contributions in the realms of education and child development to which has continued to be applied and revisited throughout the modern day. His method and perception for understanding cognitive development for children and adolescents has shaped major frameworks for instructional teaching and has laid a foundation for educators and professionals from a social constructivist standpoint. Nevertheless, I would give a considerably low rating for Vygotsky’s theory in terms of scientific worthiness due to lack of research and empirical evidence to support claims. However, Vygotsky’s method of theory on cognitive development has a precise strong emphasis on the factors of developmental adequacy. Lastly, in regards to pedagogical usefulness, Vygotsky’s social constructivist approach can be measured on a rather medium to high scale in terms of its influence on development.