Lev Vygotsky’s cognitive approach

Vygotsky’s sociocultural approach identifies three main elements that lead to cognitive development – culture, language and social interaction (Louis, 2009). Though culture is viewed as the principle element for such cognitive development, the theory also notes of language and social interaction as the means that culture utilizes to drive cognitive development (Louis, 2009). Language facilitates social interaction which then becomes the means through which culture enhances cognitive development (Louis, 2009).

In such perspective, Vygotsky identified three specific concepts that would help understand his theory of cognitive development – Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), scaffolding and psychological tools (Louis, 2009). ZPD defines a zone identified with a spectrum of challenging tasks that the learner cannot successfully complete without appropriate assistance from a more knowledgeable individual (Louis, 2009). Accordingly, cognitive development would not occur in two scenarios: (a) where the task is not beyond the ability of unaided individual and (b) where the challenging task cannot be completed successfully even with the assistance (Louis, 2009). The second concept, scaffolding, describes the structure of the assistance given to the learner by the more knowledgeable person (Louis, 2009). According to the theory, maximal cognitive development would occur when the assistance would follow a gradually declining trend from large amounts provided at the beginning (Louis, 2009). Once the learner is capable of lone performance of the task, additional cognitive development would only be possible via introduction of a new more complex task (Louis, 2009). Repetition of the tasks would only confer other benefits such as precision but not cognitive development (Louis, 2009).

The third concept – psychological tools – refers to the “intellectual mechanisms or operations which we use to examine our environment and interact with others” (Louis, 2009, p.20). Through social interactions these tools – exemplified by formulae, written language, and scientific methods – are shared with learners hence motivating them to inculcate a more complex and whole understanding of the world (Louis, 2009).  For the three concepts, ZPD, scaffolding and psychological tools to result into optimal cognitive development, effective social interruptions are therefore a prerequisite (Louis, 2009). However resulting from learners’ inability to choose the appropriate social interactions for optimal cognitive development, a more knowledgeable individual – a teacher – must be present to guide them towards the appropriate interactions (Louis, 2009). Go to similarities and differences.

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