Constructivism — particularly in its "social" forms — suggests that the learner
is much more actively involved in a joint enterprise with the teacher of creating
("constructing") new meanings. It is the importance of culture and context in
•Learning is not a purely internal process, nor is it a passive shaping of
behaviours. Vygotsky favoured a concept of learning as a “social construct
which is mediated by language via social discourse.” (McMahon, 1997)
•Laurillard emphasises learning as an iterative process, involving discursive,
adaptive, interactive, and reflexive qualities, the main focus being on teacherstudent relationship since "academic knowledge consists in descriptions of
the world, and therefore comes to be known through a discursive interaction
between teacher and student".
•Traditional behaviourist/instructivist approaches strive for context
independence, whereas a Social Constructivist paradigm views the context in
which the learning occurs as central to the learning itself.
•One Social Constructivist notion is that of authentic or "situated learning",
where the student takes part in activities which are directly relevant to the
application of learning and which take place within a culture similar to the
Cognitive and Social
We can distinguish between
"cognitive constructivism" which is about how the individual learner
understands things, in terms of developmental stages and learning
"social constructivism", which emphasises how meanings and
understandings grow out of social encounters (Vygotsky)
The most significant bases of a social constructivist theory
were laid down by Vygotsky [1896-1934] (1962):
The ability to think and reason by and for ourselves (inner speech /
verbal thought) is the result of a fundamentally social process.
At birth, we are social beings, capable of interacting with others, but
able to do little either practically or intellectually, by or for ourselves.
Gradually, however, we move towards self-sufficiency and
independence, and by participating in social activities, our abilities
For Vygotsky, cognitive development involves an active
internalisation of problem solving processes that takes place as a
result of mutual interaction between children and those with whom
we have regular contact (initially parents and later friends and class
• Scaffolding refers to the role played by parents, teachers
and others by which children acquire their knowledge and
skills (Wood et al, 1976).
• As a task becomes more familiar to the child and more
within its competence, so those who provide the scaffold
leave more and more for the child to do until it can perform
the task successfully.
• In this way, the developing thinker does not have to create
cognition ‘from scratch’: there are others available who have
already ‘served’ their apprenticeship.
Zone of Proximal Development
The theory of the "Zone of Proximal Development" (ZPD) is a term
coined by Vygotsky to refer to the:
‘level of potential development as determined through problem solving
under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable
peers…..What children can do with the assistance of others might be in
some sense even more indicative of their mental development than
what they can do alone’ (Vygotsky, 1978).
"Proximal" simply means "next". He observed that when children
were tested on tasks on their own, they rarely did as well as when
they were working in collaboration with an adult. It was by no means
always the case that the adult was teaching them how to perform
the task, but that the process of engagement with the adult enabled
them to refine their thinking or their performance to make it more
effective. Hence, for him, the development of language and
articulation of ideas was central to learning and development. The
common-sense idea which fits most closely with this model is that of
Vygotsky claimed that all developing individuals have both an actual developmental
level and a ZPD. A difference exists between what a child can do on her own and
what the child can do with help. Vygotskians call this difference the zone of proximal
How Vygotsky Impacts Learning:
Curriculum - Since children learn much through interaction, curricula
should be designed to emphasize interaction between learners and learning
Instruction - With appropriate adult help, children can often perform tasks
that they are incapable of completing on their own. With this in mind,
scaffolding - where the adult continually adjusts the level of his or her help in
response to the child's level of performance is an effective form of teaching.
Scaffolding not only produces immediate results, but also instils the skills
necessary for independent problem solving in the future.
Assessment - Assessment methods must take into account the zone of
proximal development. What children can do on their own is their level of
actual development and what they can do with help is their level of potential
development. Two children might have the same level of actual
development, but given the appropriate help from an adult, one might be
able to solve many more problems than the other. Assessment methods
must target both the level of actual development and the level of
The key to "stretching" the learner is to know what is in that person's ZPD—
what comes next, for them. It is common in constructing skills check-lists to
have columns for "cannot yet do", "can do with help", and "can do alone".
The ZPD is about "can do with help", not as a permanent state, but as a
stage towards being able to do something on your own.
• Some types of social interactions may actually hold
• There might be other reasons why people learn better in
the presence of others (e.g. social facilitation)
• Young children often take months/years to master
certain types of skill even with appropriate social support
– e.g., could a young child solve abstract problems?
Suggests that cognition is constrained by ages and
stages (Piaget’s idea)
Extracted from and modified:
Grantham College Presentation
Extracted from and modified:
Grantham College Presentation