Vygotsky’s Theory of Learning
Vygotsky’s main concern is that social interaction and social context, a world full of other people, who interact with the child from birth onwards, are essential in the cognitive development. He states that “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). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.” (Vygotsky, 1978:57).
Next, he points out at the idea that the potential for cognitive development is limited to a certain time span, which he names the “zone of proximal development”. (ZPD) In addition, full development during ZDP depends upon full social interaction. The range of skill that can be developed with adult guidance or peer collaboration exceeds what can be attained alone. It is of very fact that other people play important roles in helping children to learn, providing objects and ideas to their attention, talking while playing and sharing while playing, reading stories, asking questions. In a wide range of ways, adults mediate the world for children and make it possible for them to get access to it. The ability to learn through instruction and mediation is characteristic of human intelligence. By the help of adults children can do and understand more than they can on their own. (Cameron, 2002:5-8) Actually, Vygotsky proposed the notion of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) to give a new meaning to ‘intelligence’. Instead of measuring intelligence by what a child can do alone, Vygotsky suggested that intelligence could better be measured by what a child can do with skilled help.
Vygotsky attempted to shed light on consciousness which develops as a result of socialization. While learning a language the first utterances have a communicational purpose, but once internalized they become “inner speech”. Young children can often be observed talking to themselves and act as if they carry out tasks or play, in what is called private speech. As children get older they gradually speak less and less loud, and differentiate between social speech for others and ‘inner speech’, which continues to play an important role in regulating and controlling behavior. Wertsch (1985) emphasizes that internalization for Vygotsky was not just transfer but also a transformation; being able to think about something is qualitatively different from being able to do it. In the internalizing process, the interpersonal, joint talk and joint activity, later becomes intrapersonal, mental action by one individual. Development can be seen as internalizing from social interaction. Language can grow as the child takes over control of language used initially with other children and adults.
Although Vygotsky’s theory is currently most noted for his central focus on the social, and modern developments are labeled ‘sociocultural theory’, he did not neglect the individual or individual cognitive development.(Cameron, 2002) In Vygotskian terms, language provides the child with a new tool, opens up new opportunities for doing things and for organizing information through the use of words as symbols. The infant begins with using single words, but these words convey whole messages. As the child’s language develops, the whole undivided thought message can be broken down into smaller units and expressed by putting together words that are now units of talk. The word is a recognizable linguistic unit for children in their first language and so they will notice words in the new language. The new language is first used meaningfully by teacher and pupils, and later it is transformed and internalized to become part of the individual child’s language skills or knowledge. Children’s foreign language learning depends on what they experience. Within the ZPD, the broader and richer the language experience that is provided for children, the more they are likely to learn. The activities that happen in classroom create a kind of environment for teaching, and as such, offer different kinds of opportunities for language learning. Part of teaching skill is to identify the particular opportunities of task or activity, and then to develop them into learning experiences for the children. (Cameron, 2002:5-20)
The Social Development Theory of Vygotsky has got many implications in many theories like Social Cognitive Theory, Situated Learning Theory and Constructivism. The key components explained in Vygotsky’s theory have been broadened later by many researchers.