Social Learning

Lev Vygotsky, a Soviet developmental psychologist (1896-1934), also known as the founder of cultural historical psychology, believed that our learning depends heavily on the social and cultural context within which we exist and the role of interpersonal communication. Theories such as cognitive apprenticeship, activity theory, situated learning and distributed cognition have been reportedly influenced by Vygotsky’s thinking.

The fundamental thought behind Vygotsky’s theory is that individuals learn incrementally through social interaction. In contrast to Piaget, he believed that this form of learning preceded development. The two main principles of Vygotsky’s theories are the Most Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and the Zone of Proximal Development. The MKO is the source of knowledge or ability – it could be a teacher, peer, a computer system or anybody or anything that is able to transfer learning to the learner. The ZPD is formally defined as the difference between “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“.

The belief is that scaffolding when the learner is in the ZPD can provide the learner with the confidence and skill required to complete tasks. Once the task is mastered, the scaffolding can be removed. The process is called ‘internalization‘. Vygotsky states “…coordination with the proficient leads to competence”.

In effect, therefore language acquires deeper meaning insofar as it connects thought with mental concepts and cognition.

In the elearning 2.0 world, therefore, Vygotsky’s thoughts have great relevance. ZPDs and MKOs abound in a socially networked world and personal learning environment aggregations. Prior to formalization of elearning 2.0, however, this social learning was found in great abundance on the Web for the technology support. Most technologists would recall Internet Relay Chat (IRC), bulletin boards (BBS) and newsgroups as learning playgrounds with plenty of MKOs around to help.

In today’s world, it has become easy to share, write and publish to an entire audience with ease using a vast range of communication tools – a far limited set of tools were available in the time Vygotsky formulated his thoughts!

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