I first became aware of learning theories after enrolling in the Theories of Learning (EDUC 692K) course two years ago, as a part of required coursework. At the time, the course was taught by an amazing Professor Florence Sullivan, whom I miss dearly. After attending Florence's class, I became aware of different learning theories and gained valuable insights into educational psychology, various learning theories and patterns, cognitive development, and the factors that motivate learners.
Learning theories are crucial as they provide a foundation for understanding how individuals acquire, process, and retain knowledge. In my doctoral dissertation, I focus on developing a coding scheme for "measuring" learner culture through educational game design techniques. To form a theoretical framework that supports my work, I focus mainly on the Socio-cultural theory (SCT), and hence this post. This article could be thought of as a cheat sheet to SCT. However, I recommend further reading to get a broader understanding of the concept and its wider educational implications (recommended readings at the bottom). This is a gist from my doctoral comprehensive, which I further simplified for readers from non-educational research backgrounds, and with an intent to make this piece of public knowledge available through the Sanskriti blog.
What is Socio-cultural Theory?
Sociocultural theory is all about how people learn and develop over time by interacting with the people and things around them. It's like how you learn things from your family and friends, and teachers at school.
Think of it like putting together a puzzle. You might not be able to do it by yourself, but with some help from someone who knows more than you do, you can learn how to do it. That's what we call "scaffolding" in sociocultural theory. ZPD is another key tenet of SCT, which stands for the Zone of Proximal Development. ZPD is a concept in educational psychology that represents the space between what a learner is capable of doing unsupported and what the learner cannot do even with support. The core idea of the ZPD is that a more knowledgeable person can enhance a student’s learning by guiding them through a task slightly above their ability level. This is known as scaffolding.
Image source: simplypsychology.org
According to SCT, the way people talk and the things they do can help you learn new things. Just like how you learn new words and ideas by talking with your friends or teachers. So, teachers who use SCT in the classroom try to create a learning environment where kids can work together and help each other learn. In other words, they try to make sure that different cultures and backgrounds are represented and celebrated in the classroom, so that everyone can learn from each other.
Essentially, social interactions form the basis of SCT, as people learn from one another by sharing knowledge, ideas, and perspectives. This cooperative learning process enhances one's understanding of concepts and fosters critical thinking, as they are encouraged to analyze and evaluate various viewpoints. Ultimately helps students develop essential social skills, such as communication, empathy, and teamwork.
Cultural tools, including symbols, artifacts, and technologies, are also central to SCT. These tools shape how individuals perceive, process, and interact with their environment, ultimately influencing their learning experiences. By incorporating culturally relevant tools and practices into the learning process, educators can create more engaging and meaningful experiences for their students.
Language serves as a crucial mediator of thought, communication, and learning in SCT. Through language, learners can express their ideas, negotiate meaning, and construct shared understanding with others. By emphasizing the importance of language in learning, SCT encourages educators to develop students' linguistic skills and create learning environments that support diverse communication styles.
Authentic learning experiences, which are grounded in real-world contexts and culturally relevant tasks, are another cornerstone of SCT. These experiences allow learners to apply their knowledge and skills to meaningful problems, fostering deeper understanding, creativity, and problem-solving abilities. By designing authentic learning experiences, educators can better prepare students to adapt and thrive in a complex, rapidly changing world.
"Stand on the shoulders of giants"
In an attempt to honor Vygotsky's contribution to the education discipline, I have decided to dedicate the following section to his short bio, including AI-colored pictures of Lev and his daughter Gita Vygodskaya.
Picture showing Vygotsky with his daughter Gita. The original is borrowed from online archives, and it was then applied Pixelmator Pro's SuperML algorithm, and colorized using AI supplied by MyHeritage.
Lantolf, J. P. (2000). Introducing sociocultural theory. Sociocultural theory and second language learning, 1, 1-26.
Sahlberg, P. (2011). The professional educator: Lessons from Finland. American educator, 35(2), 34-38.
Topping, K. J. (2005). Trends in peer learning. Educational psychology, 25(6), 631-645.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds.).
Mahn, H. (1999). Vygotsky's methodological contribution to sociocultural theory. Remedial and Special education, 20(6), 341-350.
Arievitch, I. M., & Haenen, J. P. (2005). Connecting sociocultural theory and educational practice: Galperin's approach. Educational psychologist, 40(3), 155-165.
Thorne, S. L. (2005). Epistemology, politics, and ethics in sociocultural theory. The Modern Language Journal, 89(3), 393-409.
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