The world is changing, and it’s largely due to the proliferation of technology. Learning in particular is being democratised. Where once, experts had a monopoly on knowledge and expertise, now anyone it seems can access content that will teach them. This is autodidacticism – teaching yourself.
And yet according to one very respected psychologist – Lev Vygotsky – learning on your own is not as powerful or extensive as learning alongside a ‘knowledgeable other’ person. According to his Zone of Proximal Development theory (ZPD), whether that person be a teacher, peer or parent, children learn more extensively within a social context.
ZPD theory ran counter to other developmental theories of the time. Jean Piaget, for example, famously claimed that children were solo-scientists, exploring the world and constructing meaning for themselves. They would need to progress through a strictly defined set of cognitive stages before they were ready to learn at the next level, he said. Vygotsky’s tack on learning was invariably laced with rich social contexts, and laden with cultural nuances, and he didn’t hold to the stage development theory as strictly as Piaget. Vygotsky also subscribed to the notion that we construct our own meaning, but what you can learn on your own, he believed, was limited when compared to what you could learn with someone else in close proximity, supporting and encouraging you. Jerome Bruner took this notion a little further and talked about the scaffolding of learners – proving close support for them as they developed their skills, knowledge and expertise, and then, when they became more independent, the scaffolding could be faded and eventually removed.
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