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Learning Theories Essay

Lev Vygotsky, born in the U. S. S. R. in 1896, is responsible for the social development theory of learning. He proposed that social interaction profoundly influences cognitive development. Vygotsky’s key point is his belief that biological and cultural development do not occur in isolation. Vygotsky approached development differently from Piaget. Piaget believed that cognitive development consists of four main periods of cognitive growth: sensory motor, preoperational, concrete operations, and formal operations.

Piaget’s theory suggests that development has an endpoint in goal. Vygotsky, in contrast, believed that development is a process that should be analyzed, instead of a product to be obtained. Marcy P. Driscoll stated (as cited in Riddle, 1999) that “Vygotsky believes the development process that begins at birth and continues until death is too complex to be defined by stages”. The major theme of Vygotsky’s theoretical framework is that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition.

Vygoysky states: “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) (Funderstanding, 2001). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.

A second aspect of Vygotsky’s theory is the idea that the potential for cognitive development is limited to a certain time span that he calls the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD). Vygotsky believed that this life long process of development was dependent on social interaction and that social learning actually leads to cognitive development (Kearsley, 1998). Vygotsky describes it as “the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through

Learning Theories 3 problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Funderstanding, 2001). In other words, a student can perform a task under adult guidance or with peer collaboration that could not be achieved alone. The Zone of Proximal Development bridges the gap between what is known and what can be known. Vygotsky claimed that learning occurred in this zone. Therefore, Vygotsky focused on the connections between people and the cultural context in which they act and interact in shared experiences.

According to Vygotsky, humans use tools that develop from a culture, such as speech and writing, to mediate their social environments. Initially, Children develop these tools to serve solely as social functions, ways to communicate needs. Vygotsky believed that the internalization of these tools led to higher thinking skills (Riddle, 1999). When Piaget observed young children participating in egocentric speech in their preoperational stage, he believed it was a phase that disappeared once the child reached the stage of concrete operations.

Driscoll states (as cited in Riddle, 1999) “in contrast, Vygotsky viewed this egocentric speech as a transition from social speech to internalized thought”. Thus, Vygotsky believed that thought and language could not exist without each other. Vygotsky’s theory was an attempt to explain consciousness as the end product of socialization. For example, in the learning of language, our first vocal noises with friends or adults are for the purpose of communication, but once mastered they become internalized and allow “inner speech”.

Traditionally, schools have not promoted environments in which the students play an active role in their education and in the education of their friends. Vygotsky’s theory, however, requires the teacher and students to play untraditional roles as they collaborate with each other. Instead of a teacher dictating the lessons to students and later evaluate them, a teacher should collaborate with her students in order to create meaningful ways that students can make their own evaluation. Learning then becomes a reciprocal experience for the students and the teacher. Learning Theories 4.

The physical classroom, based on Vygotsky’s theory, would provide clustered desks or tables and work space for peer instruction, collaboration, and small group instruction. Like the environment, the instructional design of material would be structured to promote and encourage student interaction and collaboration. Thus, the classroom becomes a community of learning. Because Vygotsky asserts that cognitive change occurs within the Zone of Proximal development, instruction would be designed to reach a developmental level that is just above the student’s current developmental level.

Vygotsky proclaims, “learning which is oriented toward developmental levels that have already been reached is ineffective from the view point of the child’s overall development. It does not aim for a new stage of the developmental process, but rather lags behind this process” (Social Development, 1996). Appropriation is necessary for cognitive development within the zone of proximal development. Individuals participating in peer collaboration or guided teacher instruction must share the same focus in order to access the zone. Samuel J.

Hausfather states (as cited in Riddle, 1999), “joint attention and shared problem solving is needed to create a process of cognitive, social, and emotional interchange”. Furthermore, it is essential that the partners be on different developmental levels. In addition, the partner that is on the higher level needs to be aware of his partner’s lower level. If this does not occur, or if one partner continually dominates, the interaction is less successful. Scaffolding and reciprocal teaching are effective strategies to access the zone.

Scaffolding requires the teacher to provide students the opportunity to extend the current skills and knowledge. Hausfather reports (as cited in Riddle, 1999) “the teacher must engage students’ interests, simplify tasks so they are manageable, and motivate students to pursue the instructional goal. In addition, the teacher must look for discrepancies between students’ efforts and the solution, control for frustration and risk, and model an idealized version of the act”. Learning Theories 5 Reciprocal teaching allows for the creation of a dialogue between students and teachers.

This two-way communication becomes an instructional strategy by encouraging students to go beyond answering and discussing questions. A study (as cited in Riddle, 1999) demonstrated the Vygotskian approach with reciprocal teaching methods in their successful program to teach reading strategies. The teacher and students alternated turns leading small group discussions on reading. After modeling four reading strategies, students began to assume the teaching role. Results of this study showed significant gains over other instructional strategies.

Cognitively Guided Instruction is another strategy to implement Vygotsky’s theory. This strategy involves the teacher and students exploring math problems and then sharing their different problem solving strategies in an open dialogue (Riddle, 1999). Vygotsky’s social development theory challenges traditional teaching methods. Historically, schools have been organized around recitation teaching. According to Hausfather, (as cited in Riddle, 1999) “the teacher disseminates knowledge to be memorized by the students, who in turn, recite the information back to the teacher”.

However, the studies described above offer empirical evidence that learning, based on the social development theory, facilitates cognitive development over other instructional strategies (Riddle, 1999). School structure does not reflect the rapid changes that society is experiencing. Opportunities for social interaction have greatly increased with the introduction and integration of computer technology. Therefore, the social context for learning is transforming as well.

Learning relationships can now be formed from distances through cyberspace, whereas collaboration and peer instruction was once only possible in shared physical space (Bacalarski, 1994). Computer technology is a cultural tool that students can use to mediate and internalize their learning. According to Kathryn Crawford (as cited in Riddle, 1999) “recent research suggest changing the Learning Theories 6 learning contexts with technology is a powerful learning activity”. If schools continue to resist structural change, students will not be as prepared as they should be for the world.

Lev Vygotsky lived during the Russian Revolution, a time of great change in his culture. His theory was that biological and cognitive development does not happen apart from each other. These two developments sustain and grow from each other. This is when learning takes place. Because of this theory, his environment of change was a great influence in his own cognitive processes. Learning Theories 7 References Bacalarski, M. C. , (1994). Vygotsky’s Developmental Theories and the Adulthood of Computer Mediated Communication: a Comparison and an Illumination.

Retrieved November 7, 2003 from http://psych. hanover. edu/vygotsky/bacalar. html. Funderstanding, (2001). Vygotsky and Social Cognition. Retrieved November 7, 2003 from http://www. funderstanding. com/vygotsky. cfm. Kearsley, G. , (1998). Social Development (Vygotsky). Retrieved November 9, 2003 from http://members. aol. com/daidpeal/vygotsky. html. Riddle, E. M. , (1999). Lev Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory. Retrieved November 7, 2003 from www. kihd. gmu. edu/immersion/knowledgebase/theorists/constructivism/vygotsky.

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