Vygotsky and Piaget

Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget were both born in 1896. Piaget was originally trained in biology and philosophy. Vygotsky received a law degree from Moscow University and studied literature and linguistics. He wrote a book on the psychology of art and received a Ph.D. It is said he created the social development theory of learning as he began to work in psychology shortly after the Russian revolution. The theories prevalent in Russia at that time were cooperative learning and the sacrificing of one’s own goals and successes for the betterment of society. The success of one individual was considered the success of the group instead. History and background were supremely important in the understanding of a culture. Vygotsky, influenced by this way of thinking, proposed that social interaction strongly influenced cognitive development. An individual’s development, therefore, is a result of his or her culture and social interactions with parents and those older and wiser, who share the knowledge of the culture (Driscoll, 1994).

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Vygotsky’s approach is termed “sociocultural.” He approached development differently from Piaget. Piaget believed that learning through discovery and supporting the interests of the individual are important techniques for the development of the logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts. Piaget’s theory proposes that development of the child’s interests should be enhanced, as the child develops biologically. His theory has a cognitive thinking endpoint as a goal. Vygotsky’s theory applies mainly to mental development, and mental abilities and rational abilities are analyzed and developed instead of viewed as a product to be obtained. Vygotsky’s development process begins at birth and has no stages, as it is too complex to be defined, but eventually reaches the ZPD (Driscoll, 1994; Hausfather,1996).

Factors that Influence Learning

Vygotsky believed that social learning actually leads to cognitive development and that this process of development was dependent on social interaction and lasted a lifetime. Vygotsky describes ZPD as “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” (Vygotsky, 1978). Therefore, while Vygotsky focused on the “connections between people and the cultural context in which they act and interact in shared experiences” (Crawford, 1996), Piaget focused on guidance and encouragement of the development of the individual.

Role of the Learner

Vygotsky believed a student can perform a task that could not be achieved alone with the guidance of an adult or with the help of a peer. He called speech and writing cultural tools that humans use to reconcile their social environments and that children used these tools to communicate needs. Piaget saw children using egocentric speech in the preoperational stage and said it disappeared in the concrete operations stage, while Vygotsky viewed egocentric speech as a transitional stage from social speech to internalized thinking. (Driscoll, 1994).

Role of Physical Environment

Both believe that the student develops in the environment surrounding them, but while Vygotsky believed that the social environment was more important than anything else in the education of the mind, Piaget stressed that the individual learns by interacting with the environment, whether there is someone there to guide or not. Both Piaget and Vygotsky approached the role of artifacts on the development of mind. Piaget believed action is used by the child in order to understand and construct their knowledge base. “To understand is to invent.” In contrast, Vygotsky believed that understanding comes only through social interaction.

Role of Culture

Vygotsky believed that cultural artifacts pla a major role in illiciting an account of where the mind is. The ZPD reflects Vygotsky’s view that learning is distinct from development, as the ZPD has been defined as “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 (Vygotsky 86). Piaget, on the other hand, does not have a clear set of issues and phenomena that appear because of culture, so it is hard to compare the two at this point.

Role of the Instructor

In North American education Vygotsky’s idea has been interpreted in a more controlled and top-down fashion, where a teaching adult is believed to be needed for a child’s development. This is known as scaffolding. The best-known ZPD programs are Reciprocal teaching and Fostering communities of learners. The ZPD concept was also used by Lidz, Brown and Campione in the research and development of Dynamic assessment, where practical intelligence and speech development are often interwoven.

Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of ideas. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals (Vygotsky, 57).

Piaget, on the other hand, believed that young children are as smart as their elders, but they just think differently. His background of being a biologist made him focus on adaptation to the environment. Piaget believed there were four stages of cognitive development: Sensorimotor stage (Infancy), Pre-occupational Stage (Toddler and Early Childhood), Concrete Occupational Stage (Elementary and Early Adolescence) and Formal Operational Stage (Adolescence and Adulthood) (Saettler, 331).

Whereas Vygotsky looked more to social interaction as the primary source of cognition and behaviour, Piaget felt that biological influences on development determined our ability to do abstract symbolic reasoning, and that a gradual learning experience based on the early childhood ability to think in complex strategies are the keys to maturation and successful learning and functioning. Piaget believed that we have the biological makeup to develop mental organizations called schemes, while Vygotsky believed that social influences are stronger and determine how children begin and develop their mental problem-solving and social abilities, as they continue to learn.

Works Cited

Crawford, Kathryn. Vygotskian Approaches to Human Development in the Information Era. Educational Studies in Mathematics. (31) 43-62, 1996.

Driscoll, Marcy P. (1994). Psychology of Learning for Instruction. Needham, MA: Allyn, Bacon.

Hausfather, Samuel J. “Vygotsky and Schooling: Creating a Social Contest for learning.” Action in Teacher Education. (18) 1-10, 1996.

Riddle, Elizabeth M., Lev Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory, March, 1999. http://chd.gmu.edu/immersion/knowledgebase/theorists/constructivism/vygotsky.htm.

Saettler, P. The Evolution of American Educational Technology. Egnlewood, Co: Libraries Unlimited. 1990.

Vygotsky, Lev S. Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1978.