Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky proposed classical constructivist theories of cognitive development. Although, these two great theorists are often compared, there is a significant difference between their concepts.
Vigotsky’s theories concentrate on the relationship between human consciousness and the material world. This shows that the thought development of human beings is determined by the environment, hence considering the fact that education has a social character, and depends on both the reality that surrounds us, and our own experiences. According to Vygotsky, learning occurs through our interpretation of our experiences that we have of the world. Basically, he interprets learning as a process that takes place within us. When applying his theory to children, it states that children’s development takes place by their observation of interactions among people in their world, and by interacting with others, and how they use these interactions. This theory states that child’s development occurs outward to inward, meaning that the child receives the information from outsource and internalizes it.
As part of this theory, Vygotsky also came up with three primary thoughts about cognitive development. The three thoughts are: Internalization, the zone of proximal development (ZPD) and scaffolding. The main concept is the Internalization, which he describes as the process of taking in knowledge or certain skills from social environment. There is a strong relationship between what a child observes, and how they apply their interpretation of what they observed. Due to children being dependent upon their parents or guardians, what they observe in their environment becomes a key factor in their development. His concept of Internalization brings concern to most parents and caregivers, because of the interactions that are being observed on television. Mostly, they are observing interactions based on violence alcohol, drugs and many other interactions based on this content. Zone of Proximal Development is “the distance between the actual developmental 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, p86). He believes that interaction with peers is the most effective way for a child to develop certain skills and strategies. He suggests that teachers develop and organize classroom activities, where less competent children are able to get help from their more skillful peers within the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky defined scaffolding instruction as the “role of teachers and others in supporting the learner’s development and providing support structures to get to that next stage or level” (Raymond, 2000, p. 176). One of the most important aspects of scaffolding is that it is temporary. As the student’s abilities increase the scaffolding provided by the more knowledgeable other must be lessened and eventually stopped. Eventually, the learner must be able to complete the task or independently master the concepts (Chang, Sung, & Chen, 2002, p. 7). The goal of the teacher when using the scaffolding teaching strategy must be for the student to become an independent and self driven learner.
Jean Piaget has made great contributions to the world of psychology. He changed the study of child thought and language. He developed clinical methods to observe children’s ideas and thought processes. Instead of concentrating on children’s deficiencies, Piaget concentrated on the distinctive characteristics of children’s thoughts, specifically on what the child has, instead of what the child lacks. He quoted that “a child is not a miniature adult and his mind not the mind of an adult on a small scale. Behind his quote, for which Piaget experimentally validated, lies another simple idea, which is the idea of evolution.
However, Piaget’s work was criticized, because it suffers from the duality common to all the other path-finding contemporary works in psychology. This is a crisis that psychology is undergoing as it develops into a science in the true sense of the world. It is a struggle, hence more acute in psychology since it is such a growing field. There are numerous newly observed and scientifically proven facts that help overcome the crisis. In modern psychology, there are great discoveries that are made daily. Piaget tried to escape these fatal dualities by just working with facts. He avoided generalizing even when it came to his own field. According to him, empiricism seemed to him as the only same ground.
Piaget described four stages of intellectual development: the sensorimotos, the pre-operational, the concrete operational, and the formal operational stage. According to him, regardless of the child’s social and cultural background, the child must pass these four stages of cognitive development. These stages dictate the child’s cognitive abilities. In his sensorimotor stage is when the infant tries to make sense of the world. In pre-operational stage, the child is unable to conserve. The child fails to recognize that a quantity will remain the same if it is shown differently. He claimed that young children’s egocentrism prevents them from realizing that other people have different mental perspective. This is often observed in young children’s language (Lovell, 1969, p.106). During concrete operational stage, children gain more understanding of mental operations. Children begin to think more logically. In formal operational stage, skills are developed to understand abstract concepts. These are skills such as logical thought, systematic planning and logical thought.
Piagetian theory does not show that children perform tasks that are beyond their cognitive capabilities. Even though the teacher prepares the environment for learning, but the child is limited by their developmental stage. On the other hand, Zone of Proximal Development by Vygotsky, challenges the child to work beyond their potential abilities. When comparing their constructivist theories, reveals the significance of Vygotskian approach to socio-cultural aspects of development. A social constructivist method shows more accurate examinations of cognitive development than constructivist approach does. Indeed, studies of child development should consider the social and cultural perspective.