“Social Development Theory” as originated by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896- 1934) argues that social interaction precedes development; consciousness and cognition are the end-products of socialization and social behavior. Much of the influence of this theory can be observed in the present education system, be it in elementary, secondary and even in tertiary levels.
Social constructivism emphasizes that knowledge is first constructed in a social environment and is then appropriated by individuals. According to social constructivists, knowledge grows directly out of the interaction. Social interactions and involvement with others are very important aspects in the process of knowledge building and construction. In particular, exposure to the thoughts of others provides opportunities to evaluate and refine their own. This is true as different individuals possess diversified aspects of understanding. We then come upwith this diversity as we have unique interpretation of our own experiences. But the mere fact that every experience is an opportunity to learn and gain values, we can all share these to one another. Others learn best from other’s perspective in fact.
In the process, the participants develop not only personal knowledge but shared understandings as well. If Piaget focused on individual cognition, Vygotsky focused on the “child embedded in a sociocultural context”, which values collaboration, social interaction, and sociocultural activity. In addition, culture defines what the society values and considers important. Thus, culture—including the language, beliefs, and skills of that culture—strongly shapes the nature of the knowledge and understandings created by the learners (Santrock, 2011, pp. 333-334; McLeod, 2007). The processes enumerated by Vygotsky are very important in gaining full understanding of a certain phenomenon. They say that two heads are better than one as we celebrate the diversity of every individual. If one can think a bright idea, how much more if this can be further supplemented with another’s idea.
In line with this theory, the following are considered major themes:
- Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development. In contrast to Jean Piaget’s understanding of child development (in which development necessarily precedes learning), Vygotsky felt social learning precedes development. He 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)” (Vygotsky, 1978). This is very important in the context of classroom setting as students begin to initiate interaction with other learners. Not only that he can share his points to others but also acquire understanding from others’ viewpoints.
- The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The MKO refers to anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept. The MKO is normally thought of as being a teacher, coach, or older adult, but the MKO could also be peers, a younger person, or even computers. This almost always exists in every context of learning settings. Even the most intelligent person I suppose has some experience of seeking help from others (MKO). Each of us has a so-called “forte” and weakness in the field of studies and so asking the help of those who are viewed well-equipped in the area we are not that good may be a good resource. After all, I believe that not everything is written in the book, and no any single teacher can provide us all the necessary things for better learning experience.
- The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult guidance and/or with peer collaboration and the student’s ability solving the problem independently. According to Vygotsky, learning occurred in this zone. I think of this concept as the time wherein a learner is much motivated and determined to learn a particular thing. After seeking help from others, there is an innate tendency for learners to achieve that understanding until it can be utilized effectively in an independent manner. It is during this stage that learners are very much eager to search for deeper aspects of understanding. Other persons may provide guided assistance, but it is the individual himself who will turn it into a maximum learning opportunity.
Many schools have traditionally held a transmissionist or instructionist model in which a teacher or lecturer ‘transmits’ information to students. In contrast, Vygotsky’s theory promotes learning contexts in which students play an active role in learning. Roles of the teacher and student are therefore shifted, as a teacher should collaborate with his or her students in order to help facilitate meaning construction in students. Learning therefore becomes a reciprocal experience for the students and teacher. As the present system of education realize the importance of empowering students in their own learning, many classroom activities are now designed and implemented to facilitate this goal grounded to social constructivism. I am positive that continuous use of this approach will better equip the students to the challenge of the fats changing world.