The Comparison of Sociocultural Theory

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The comparison of sociocultural theory
to Piaget’s developmental model

Any new theory of human development requires analysis; how it goes about testing its concepts and how it compares with other contemporary theories within the same field. Conforming to these requirements allow the merits, place and role of the theory being analysed to become much clearer. Furthermore, this approach can sometimes throw further light on previously analysed theory and often provide a deeper understanding of it.

With this in mind, I have chosen to analyse the contribution made by Jean Piaget’s ‘Developmental Model’, and Lev Vygotsky’s ‘socio-cultural learning-theory’ for several reasons. The primary one is because their legacy to our understanding of learning is visible in education today and is, therefore, playing a role in shaping the future of society. Much of the work they produced was done concurrently (they were born in the same year, 1896) and there was some opportunity for each to read and comment on the work of the other. From initial study it appears that by looking at both, one enters into the nature vs nurture argument. The case for nurture is certainly accentuated in Vygotsky’s work, whereas Piaget’s developmental model occupies itself with the functions of the brain and the way it displays its construction of knowledge. In other words, Vygotsky appears to theorise from the outside in and Piaget, from the inside out.

This essay will investigate to what extent this view is valid. As well as looking at the background of Piaget and Vygotsky to attempt to provide a framework from where each man developed his ideas, an attempt will be made to draw out the similarities and differences and present some of the reasons behind them.

Much of the research already carried out often appears to be presented as one versus the other (with the sense of one being advocated as being more valid). However, this essay will aim to show that Piaget and Vygotsky were rarely at cross-purposes but rather, approaching the same subject, how children learn, from different perspectives. There is little doubt that both of these men were remarkable in displaying early signs of advanced intellectual capacity and that both zealously pursued study and research throughout their lives. Each was recognised as essential contributors in several scientific fields.

Both were born into prosperous, intellectual families where they enjoyed freedom of thought and were given the opportunity to engage with adult company on intellectual matters. Vygotsky’s childhood saw him surrounded by people, (he was one of eight children), living through a turbulent historical backdrop. To add to this, being Jewish in the Russia of his time, meant that he and his family were well aware of their ‘otherness’ and how it affected the life opportunities available to most Russian subjects (places in State-run universities were limited to a 5% Jewish intake for example). We see Vygotsky grow up to be very aware of his surroundings and sensitive to inter-relationships.

In contrast, Piaget’s environment appears more stable all-round, with less family upheavals due to new members being born and with, apparently, little if any conflict with the outside world.

Vygotsky came to see the dramatic influence the environment and its social factors had on children’s learning and advocated that mixed abilities, learning together, enhanced learning generally. He came to this conclusion despite being home-schooled through his primary years.

Piaget seemed to be more concerned with defining uniform, human-learning traits. He did not deny the impact one’s environment and life experiences had on the individual but tried to identify natural and common characteristics within the growing human being. Interestingly, Piaget, who did attend primary school, contended that the best possible learning environment for a child was on a one-to-one basis. Closer examination of both learning theories will...
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