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Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget: Approaches to Instruction

ZPD and Learning as per Vygotsky

The “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD) is the variety of tasks that a learner can perform under the educators’ (or peers’) guidance but not independently (Slavin, 2014). Vygotsky’s concept is specifically applicable in the context of children’s learning and development. From this concept, the notion of scaffolding was derived. To scaffold in the classroom means to firstly provide the learner with active support and appraisal and gradually decrease the amount of support to let the learner act on their own (Slavin, 2014).

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The video “proximal development” is a good example of assisted learning that operates both these notions (Jenningh, 2007). As one can see, the children are learning to perform tasks like piecing together jigsaw puzzles. The first part of the video features an adult educator actively supporting the child all the way through doing the puzzle. The second part shows another child who starts off under the educator’s guidance and is able to finish on his own (Jennings, 2007).

One can think of plenty of examples when ZPD and scaffolding can be used in education, not necessarily in children’s. A young learner taking their driving lessons can drive forward and park the car effortlessly but find themselves ill at ease with backward driving. The driving instructor targets their instructions on this particular problem and encourages the learner. Nevertheless, it is the learner who does the driving.

The instructor only assesses the student’s achievement and provides guidance and support, gradually diminishing the amount of assistance. Similarly, ZPD and scaffolding can be applied to children’s education. The educators can develop plans targeted on a particular learning accomplishment relying on what the child is able to do, first alone, then under guidance. Having set the goal, they start off providing the children with assistance and gradually delegate the responsibility to them.

Piaget vs. Vygotsky

Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories are in agreement as to how exactly education happens. Both theorists maintain that society and environment make the most impact on the learners’ education. In other respects, the theories diversify. Piaget operates the notion of disequilibrium, which is the situation when the mind is put to face a problem; it cannot yet interpret. In this case, the learner either adjusts the mental schema, which helps them to make sense of the world or learns new skills and how to apply them.

To learn new things, one has to develop first (Justin Burrus, 2009). On each developmental stage, the learners employ different skills and use more extensive schemas (Slavin, 2014). Vygotsky, on the other hand, believed in continuous development. As per Vygotsky, there are no distinct stages of it: learning is what facilitates development (justin Burrus, 2009).

The author of the video suggests that Vygotsky’s theory appears more applicable to real-life because it pays more attention to social forces, i.e., teachers and other students. On the one hand, one can only agree with the criticality of socialization and teachers’ and peers’ support. On the other hand, one cannot deny that children’s capabilities differ depending on their age. A two-year-old is probably unable to solve an abstract problem because, on this stage, they cannot use their abstract thinking yet. However, in contrast to Piaget’s theory, a teacher cannot expect the children to develop by simply providing the environment to motivate them.

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At that, Vygotsky’s solution appears more applicable: interaction with peers and the teacher’s support has a significant impact on development. It appears that the integration of theories would be the most optimal solution: children’s learning should be based on an adequate estimation of their capabilities at a given age and active encouragement and assistance from the teachers and peers.


jenningh (2007). Proximal development [Video file]. Web.

justin burrus (2009). Piaget & Vygotsky in 90 seconds [Video file]. Web.

Slavin, R. E. (2014). Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice (11th ed.). London, UK: Pearson.

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