Social Development Theory

Lev Vygotsky was the originator of Social Development Theory. In this theory, social interaction is the basis for cognitive development. Thinking and learning is a product of social interactions between the individual and others, according to Vygotsky.

Main Characteristics

Zone of Proximal Development: One of the keys to Vygotsky’s theory was the “zone of proximal development”, as he called it. The zone of proximal development deals with the gap between what an individual is capable of performing without assistance, and what an individual is potentially capable of doing without guidance from another.

The following video demonstrates the idea of the "Zone of Proximal Development"

Learning Based on Social Interaction: The participants that thus make up this theory are the individuals in development, and those who are guiding or teaching the individual within the zone of proximal development. Without this interaction, the gap never closes and development will not occur.

Language: Language plays an important role in Vygotsky’s theory. Inner speech is the internalization of external speech and learned items. Without this inner speech, the higher levels of thinking are not possible.


Scaffolding Model: The Zone of Proximal Development has been modified to include the term “scaffolding”. This is the process by which a child’s cognition is slowly built up by closing the gap between what a child can do individually vs. without help. This process has proved useful to teachers as a means of basing education on a gradual process.


Lacks Recognition of Child: The cognitive development of the child is not thoroughly explained in Social Development Theory. Children are seen as absorbing information through social interaction. It does not account for the other end of the spectrum. Learning is an active process and thought and cognition must be going on in order to advance. This can happen at varying degrees, depending on many factors such as genetics. It is hard to simplify it down to one single process of absorbance.

How is completely new information acquired and manipulated when nobody is teaching it?
Without a more knowledgeable source to teach it, how are new inventions and new ideas created. How did Albert Einstein first develop his theory of relativity? He was the most knowledgeable source within his studies. This is not accounted for in Social Development Theory.


Vygotsky and Social Constructivism

Lev Vygotsky's theory revolves around social interaction and teachers being able to facilitate an environment that can promote this. The term social constructivism is often used when referring to Vygotsky, because children learn to construct their own meanings and knowledge of the world through their interactions with others. Teachers play a role in this by creating an environment where children can work together and learn from each other as well as their teacher.

Collaborative group work and student interaction is the focus of a Vygotskian-based classroom, with the teacher facilitating discussions and learning, not directly instructing everything. Vygotsky also believed that teaching others/ helping others allows for greater retention for the helper and the person being helped. By having students teach each other, both sides can benefit from this interaction.

The learning pyramid relates to Vygotsky's theories of learning through social interactions

Social Constructivism and Technology
Telecommunication tools such as E-mail and online discussion boards can be used to facilitate dialogues and debates; in addition students can exchange ideas with other students, teachers, and other professionals that are outside of their classroom. This interaction through the use of telecommunication tools will lead to the social construction of meaning. According to Vygotsky the goal for using technology should be to connect students to one another. The goal of integrating this type of technology in the Vygotskian classroom is to expose students to a collabrative process that they will probably encounter in the real world.

Classroom Instruction
One activity that can be done in a classroom to incorporate Vygotsky theory is to have students select an age/grade appropriate topic to discover and write about. The goal would be for student to work together to create a finial project about a topic of their choice. For example, a second grade classroom may decide on emotions for their topic. They will work together to find out as much they can about different emotions. They may then decide for each student to portray a different emotion. They can each do so by creating a drawing and brief caption on the computer (through paint or a similar program) to describe the emotion they illustrated. The different illustrations can then be compiled into a power point to present their findings.

An activity to help kindergarteners learn about colors and shapes would be to put them into small groups and hand out many different objects of different colors and shapes. Students would have to place the objects in some sort of category and then explain why they did so. This allows students to figure out on their own how to distinguish things because of color or shape.

Other activity would be to simply group students together, being sure to have students of different intellectual abilities in each group. As students work to research, read, write, or do any sort of activity, they will learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses and build off one another.

This video shows an activity for reading comprehension: