Vygotsky and Socio-cultural Learning

The work of Lev Vygotsky has become the foundation of much research and theory in cognitive development, particularly of what has become known as Social Development Theory. He believed that young children were curious and actively involved in their own learning and the discovery and development of new understandings or schemas (McLeod, 2007).

His theory stresses the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition (Vygotsky, 1978), as he believed strongly that community plays a central role in the process of “making meaning”. He argued that “learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human psychological function” (1978, p. 90).

Two of the main principles of Vygotsky’s work deal with the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).



 To understand the MKO, it is important to understand that much of the learning done by children occurs through social interactions with people who are more skilled and who have a better understanding than the learner. This person, whether it’s a family member or guardian, teacher, classmate or friend, engages in cooperative or collaborative dialogue with the child through modelling or providing verbal instructions. These are just two scaffolding techniques that the MKO can use to support learning.

The ZPD is associated with the More Knowledgeable Other because it relates to “the difference between what a child can achieve independently and what a child can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner” (Freund, 1990). The ZPD is where the most sensitive instruction or guidance should be given, so that the child can develop higher mental functions. Vygotsky also explained the importance of private speech. He considered private speech as the transition point between social and inner speech, the moment in development where language and thought unite to constitute verbal thinking (Vygotsky, 1987). This further facilitates a child’s independence in learning and making sense of the world.

We hope this site will serve as supportive scaffolding, giving you information about Vygotsky’s principles and theories so that you can build new understandings through interactions with other site users.

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