Learning and developmental theories by Vygotsky

Born on 17th November 1896 in Orsha, Belarus Levy Semionovich Vygotsky attended the Gomel gymnasium and commenced university education in philosophy, law and history in Moscow in 1912. Vygotsky learnt many crucial aspects of humanities; literature and aesthetics and history and philosophy while in high school and university. He wrote a study on Hamlet at twenty years of age. Vygotsky initially was enthused by drama, poetry, concepts of meanings and signs, language, cinema and philosophy and history before venturing into psychology. His first psychology related book was done in 1925 under the title, The Psychology of Art

Vygotsky was never schooled in psychology although he authored a classic theory of mental development. His main emphasis was how culture, historical perspectives and social intermingling influence mental development. From university, Vygotsky went back to Gomel where he did several intellectual activities, like teaching psychology. Vygotsy took interest in the problems of mentally-challenged children. His initial professional accomplishment in psychology was in form of papers submitted to congresses. Vygotsy began work at the Institute of Psychology in 1924. He developed his historical-cultural model of psychological aspects between 1924 and 1934 and completed 200 works (Smith, Cowie, 2003, p.13).

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Thought and Language was published in 1962.Vygotsky advanced a socio-cultural theory of the development of advanced mental faculties to explain mental development and education problems. Vygotsky hypothesized that the human is genetically social. Further analysis led Vygotsky to propose some insightful ideas on the initial sociability of a child. He concluded these ideas by developing a child development theory. He stated that a child performs activities through the intervention of adults. All behavioral aspects of a child are related and originate from social interactions. A child’s interactions with the physical world are social from the beginning; therefore, a newborn is absolutely a social creature.

During early infancy, a child’s asymmetrical relations – interactions with adults who carry all cultural messages, are very crucial. In these interactions, the crucial role is performed by different semiotic systems and signs whose initial function is to aid communication. Later on, these relations promote individuation when they are utilized as implements for the control and organization of individual mannerisms. This is the conception of Vygotsky as regards social relations.

He hypothesized that social interactions perform formative and constructive roles in the development of a child. Humans can not exist and develop normally in isolation since a part of them is rooted in their colleagues; they are incomplete in isolation (Miller, 2001, p.31). Some kinds of advanced mental activities, for instance, logical memory, purposeful attention, conceptual and verbal thought, and complex emotions, can not emerge and develop in the absence the constructive mediation of social relations.

Vygotsky further advanced some generalizations, for instance, the theory of the transformation of interpsychic into intrapsychic phenomena. This explains the origin and facilitates the analysis of advanced mental processes. It proposes that every episode of a child’s semiotic behavior develops from social interactions. This explains why semiotic behavior is a social way of functioning even in higher developmental stages. Development of advanced mental processes progresses parallel to the transformation of social behavior instruments into implements of individual social makeup.

Vygotsky performed a research on the inter-linkage between language and thought with regard to this concept. This is the primary objective of Thought and Language. It determined that heredity is crucial to a child’s ability to develop language.  Heredity alone is not adequate; social interactions are also required in the development of a child. Pre-verbal interactions involve the adult introducing language, which is a social relations and communication tool. Language is transformed into a tool for internal psychic composition for the child –apparition of personal language, intrinsic language and verbal thought (Smith, Cowie, 2003, p.44).

Vygotsky’s arguments explain the relationship between teaching and development. Teaching provides a portent tool, language. Language becomes a crucial aspect of the psychic composition of the individual, after the development of internal language is. New acquisitions, such as language, begin to relate with mental processes like thought. This interaction develops new processes like verbal thought. Vygotsky thus theorized that development encompasses the dynamic relationships between various functions like verbal thought and logical memory. Development involves the formation of complex processes, systemic functions, systems of functions and functional systems.

Scrutiny of Vygotsky’s analysis of development, by way of language acquisition -learning intercourse, facilitates the explanation of the first development model in a natural setting. Learning provides cultural tools that widen the natural reach of the individual and re-align his mental processes thus promoting this natural process. Parents influence, as cultural representatives, in the acquisition of language by children and adoption a section of the culture, constitutes a new type of interactions. This is the relationships with cultural products (Miller, 2001, p.52).

Vygotsky singled out cultural acquisitions that influence mental processes and human behavior to explain how culture affects individual development. A huge system of artificial external triggers, employed by persons to achieve control over personal inner states, thus emerges. This gives birth to the interpsychism concept; a part of an individual dwells in their colleagues, another section in culture and individual works. Thus, the development of a person involves both intrinsic changes as well as internal psychological changes induced by external instruments developed by humans.

Humans use man-made tools to master, control and develop their own abilities. Some of these tools are language, rituals, behavior patterns depicted in art, scientific ideas, memory or thinking aids and implements that promote motility or perception. The initial psychological impacts, the influence of such tool on individual development through interaction is very crucial. Vygotsky utilizes the aphorism that: the in the absence of aiding implements, the human intelligence and hands are relatively powerless; their abilities are provided by cultural aids and tools, to analyze their impacts (Miller, 2001, p.58).

Culture develops a progressively increasing list of influential external aids to complement psychological functions. An individual’s memory and intrinsic intelligence is augmented by external synthetic memory and intelligence. These aids alter human memory conceptualizations.

Alongside external aids, there exist psychological instruments that can be internalized. These include semiotic systems, media intellectual processes and skills, intellectual constructions and operations and intellectual activities adopted when culture is adopted.

Vygotsky was convinced that the medium employed in interrelationships has deeper meaning. He proposed that a person who comprehends written language not only possesses a technical skill but also has his memory, perception and thought processes affected. This is so because written language adheres to a reality-analysis model- conception in discrete units, temporality and linearity in thought processes and loss of the notion of totality. Psychological qualities, for instance, heightened memory capabilities that changes memory-thought intercourse, also exists within written language.  A cultural component is instilled into persons and becomes personalized (Smith, Cowie, 2003, p.87).

Vygotsky performed a research on the development of concepts (experimental, spontaneous and scientific) to study the utilization of cultural implements. The research emphasized the adoption of structures of scientific notions when a child is of school-age.  His book, Thought and Language, outlines the research findings. He viewed scientific notion structures as cultural tools that pass important messages. Adoption of such structures by children influences their thought patterns immensely.

The important aspect of scientific ideas is their hierarchical structures. Children greatly widen their thought processes as they internalize hierarchical structures since these structures facilitate performance of a progression of intellectual processes. Practical systems have the disadvantage of possessing limited practical categories that lack scientific notions’ formal construction. School organized education facilitates adoption of scientific structures notions. Teaching in Oral language assimilation performs a constructive role of merely having adults well-versed in language to mediate in common activities (Miller, 2001, p.103).

Vygotsky’s second hypothesis of development argues that education constitutes a child’s artificial development. It not only impact on developmental processes but also fundamentally models all behavioral activities. Education is an independent source of development. Several development models can be determined by studying the prevailing developmental period as regards cultural implements and how deeply heredity influences functions. This development model is depicted in the assimilation of the processes of notions.

It would be relatively simple to determine historical or intercultural differences in cognitive development bearing in mind the wide array of cultural styles and implements an individual might or might not have had a chance to assimilate. Such a conception of human intelligence development has no provision for “culture-free intelligence tests’. The notion that scientific definitions of intelligence that only includes indicators like reaction time and evoked potential is alien to this theory.

Vygotsky then discovers the metacognitive viewpoint of development while analyzing the ‘artificial development” model. A person’s realization and command of own cognitive function is facilitated by generalized adoption of knowledge structures, interdependence of notions in a network and the presence of external models.  This deliberate self-control mechanism is assisted by the kind of learning procedure, explanation of mental approach strategies, the description of concept-development procedure, shared concept-development and expert supervision of the learning procedure.

Such environments will facilitate accurate understanding of knowledge-adoption procedures and conscious control over the same by the child. Vygotsky developed the most important historical and theoretical materials for the comprehension and objective study of metacognitive processes. Other than regarding metacognitive processes merely as practical self-mastery methods or as isolated issues, Vygotsky provides a theoretical framework. He proposes that metacognitive processes constitute a theory for the development of advanced mental processes. These processes are regarded as necessary stages for development under specific conditions (Smith, Cowie, 2003, p.69).

They then perform the crucial function of general alignment of cognition. This role illustrates clearly the conception of development as the process in which transformations of specific cognitive functions occurs. This theory facilitates comprehension of an individual’s ability to manage their inner processes.

Vygotsky’s theory supersedes all other theories in that it underscores the importance of education to development. This theory can thus be effectively utilized to promote understanding of education issues, and their importance in development. Understanding the role of such phenomena in the design of educational research projects and testing of appropriate applications is crucial. Vygotsky’s theory also has brought to the fore new empirical research issues that are important in education and have since been utilized in research.


  1. Miller, P (2001). Theories of Developmental Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers
  2. Smith, P & Cowie, H (2003). Understanding Children’s Development. New York: Blackwell Publishers

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