Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development 

Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development 

Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development is recognized worldwide as an advocate of a sociocultural perspective of development.

Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development 

Last update: July 27, 2020

Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development focuses on the important contributions made by society to individual development. This theory emphasizes the interaction between developing individuals and the culture in which they live. Beyond that, it views human learning, to a large extent, as a social process.

The theory is not only concerned with the influence of adults on individual learning, but also with how cultural beliefs and attitudes affect education and learning.

It should be emphasized that Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development it is one of the foundations of constructivism, insofar as it affirms that children, far from being mere passive recipients, build their own knowledge, their own schema, starting from the information they receive.

"Knowledge that does not come from experience is not true knowledge."

-Lev Vygotskij-

The key aspects of Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development

Vygotsky argues that society plays a central role in the attribution of meaning. That is why his theory places emphasis on the fundamental role of social interaction in cognitive development.

According to Vygotsky, children have a long period of cognitive development ahead of them. Each culture would provide what he calls cognitive adaptation tools. These tools allow children to use their basic mental skills according to the culture in which they grow up.

Lev Vygotsky states that learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the culturally organized development process, in particular of the human psychological function. In other words, social learning tends to precede cognitive development.

Like Piaget, Vygotsky states that children are born with the skills necessary for full cognitive development. According to the author, these basic mental functions are attention, sensation, perception and memory.

Through interaction, within a sociocultural environment, these functions develop into more sophisticated and effective mental processes and strategies, which he calls higher mental functions.

In this sense, Vygotsky believes that cognitive functions, even those that take place autonomously, are influenced by the beliefs, values ​​and tools of cognitive adaptation of the culture in which the individual develops and which, therefore, are determined by a sociocultural point of view. It follows that the tools of cognitive adaptation vary according to the culture.

Finally, it states that each culture has unique differences. And given cultures can vary dramatically, Vygotsky's sociocultural theory suggests that both the course and the content of cognitive development are not as universal as Piaget believes.

The zone of proximal development

One of the most important concepts in Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development concerns the zone of proximal development. It is the distance between the actual level of development, determined by solving problems individually, and the level of potential development, determined by solving problems under the guidance of an adult or in collaboration with other more able peers.

In essence, the zone of proximal development includes all the knowledge and skills that the individual cannot yet comprehend or perform on their own, but which they are able to learn with guidance. As the child improves his skills and knowledge, the zone of proximal development progressively extends as well.

Vygotsky believes that is the area where the help of a more experienced person in the learning process is invaluable. In other words, when the apprentice can derive the maximum benefit, in terms of learning, from the help of an expert.


Vygotsky's theory highlights the importance of play in learning. Parents and teachers can use it to find out to locate the child's proximal development zone and lead him to it.

It is that area made up of activities that represent real challenges for the student; a set of challenges that, depending on the level of development, can be overcome with a little help.

Per Vygotskij, peer interaction is effective for developing skills and strategies. They are stimuli that normally have a similar proximal development zone. For this reason he suggests employing cooperative learning exercises in which less competent children can grow up with the help of more able peers.

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