sociocultural theory education
An important concept in sociocultural theory is known as the zone of proximal development. According to Vygotsky, this “is the distance between the actual development 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.”
How does Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory differ from Piaget’s theory of cognitive development? First, Vygotsky placed a greater emphasis on how social factors influence development. While Piaget’s theory stressed how a child’s interactions and explorations influenced development, Vygotsky stressed the essential role that social interactions play in cognitive development.
Vygotsky developed the term ‘more knowledgeable other’ to explain how learning occurs through social interaction.
So, here are some limitations that seem to be inherent in this theory:
- It doesn’t take into account children’s emotions: The theory of humanism does a much, much better job of taking into account children’s emotions than sociocultural theory. In fact, the socioculturalists are almost completely silent on the idea that children’s emotions impact their learning. This is a big oversight.
- Sociocultural classrooms can be extremely noisy: This is my biggest quarrel with social learning environments. Your classroom becomes so noisy and hard to manage that you need to be a very effective educator. You need to teach your students self-regulation and ensure students both say on task and keep their voices down so they don’t distract others.
- Shy, timid or introverted students may struggle: I’ve found many students who are shy or prefer learning in isolation have a lot of trouble in social learning environments. As a pretty introverted person myself, I get very exhausted in these environments and feel I could have learnt much more effectively in silence and solitude.
- Students with sensory challenges find it hard: I’ve had many students who struggle with the high-energy, noisy and active environment of a sociocultural classroom. The students I am particularly concerned about are students with autism who can really be set off by these challenging environments.
- Differentiating learning for ZPD is very time consuming with big groups: As a teacher in social learning spaces, I can find it hard to differentiate my content so that students are all learning within their ZPD. To differentiate content 30 times is unrealistic. The best I can achieve is splitting students into table groups.
In order to gain an understanding of Vygotsky’s theories on cognitive development, one must understand two of the main principles of Vygotsky’s work: the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).
The more knowledgeable other (MKO) is somewhat self-explanatory; it refers to someone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept.
Palincsar, A. S. (1998). Social constructivist perspectives on teaching and learning. Annual Review of Psychology, 49. pp. 345-375.
- Mutual Engagement: Firstly, through participation in the community, members establish norms and build collaborative relationships; this is termed mutual engagement.
- Joint Enterprise: Secondly, through their interactions, they create a shared understanding of what binds them together; this is termed the joint enterprise.
- Shared Repertoire: Finally, as part of its practice, the community produces a set of communal resources, which is termed their shared repertoire.
Grusec 16 also found that people contribute to their own life course by selecting, influencing, and constructing their own circumstances based on perceived self-efficacy and self-regulatory capacity. Students and teachers select activities based on their self-efficacy beliefs. Strong self-efficacy by students and strong teacher efficacy enables students to control their learning, persist at tasks, and increase goal attainment by choosing tasks that challenge their existing knowledge. Teacher efficacy is as important as student efficacy in the design and implementation of learning activities.
In relation to the ZPD, Vygotsky also stressed that instruction be directed more toward the higher level of the ZPD than the lower level of the zone. 5 This implied that a learning experience should make the student stretch to meet high expectations. However, without an optimal mix of challenge and support, student growth and development are unlikely to reach full potential. 7 Educators must provide appropriate support through structured activities in which students can interact with other students and faculty members to reach the highest level of development.