Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Learning: learning is acquiring the ability to establish relationships between signs, symptoms or symbols and objects. This also includes e.g. recognition and recollection of patterns, similarities, sensory perceptions, self-perception, etc. In the ideal case, the ability to apply generalizations to future cases is acquired while learning. See also knowledge, knowledge-how, competence.

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Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

 
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Lev S. Vygotsky on Learning - Dictionary of Arguments

Upton I 94
Learning/Vygotsky/Upton: [according to Vygotsky] learning takes place within what he calls the zone of proximal development (ZPD). This concept refers to a child’s developmental potential. (…) a child’s actual developmental level is determined by their independent problem solving, while their potential developmental level is determined by the problem solving they can achieve with instruction from an adult or more knowledgeable peer. The ZPD is the distance between these actual and potential developmental levels. Children develop
Upton I 95
new ways of thinking and problem solving through working with more knowledgeable others on tasks that are within this zone. If children are to develop new ways of thinking, it is really important that the tasks that children are given are just out of reach of their independent problem-solving abilities, but not so difficult that they cannot do them even with help.
Scaffolding: Adults teach children new skills gradually through a process known as scaffolding.
During a learning interaction, the teacher takes the child step by step through the task, varying the level of help given so that it is contingent on the child’s needs (Wood et al., 1976)(1). It is important to remember that, for Vygotsky, teaching is something that happens all the time – parents teach children, and older siblings teach younger ones.
Upton I 97
Vygotsky (1962/1978)(1) believed that a child can be taught anything as long as the activity falls within the child’s ZPD( see above). The teacher’s role is therefore to provide direct instruction. In one sense, Piaget and Vygotsky are both arguing for readiness to learn. However, the important difference is that for Piaget development leads to learning, while for Vygotsky learning results in development. >Learning Piaget.
If Vygotsky is right, could it be possible to teach a skill such as conservation to children who are not yet at the operational stage of development? Indeed, there is evidence that three- and four-year-old preschoolers who are not yet able to conserve can be taught this skill (Field, 1981)(2).
The short-term nature of the conservation shown by the younger children suggests that they had not actually learned a new thinking skill, but had simply rote learned the ‘correct’ answers. By the time of retesting, they had forgotten what the answers were. This is further evidenced by the finding that the children who retained the ability to conserve were those who had shown that they could generalise their conservation skills to untrained quantities. This suggests that Vygotsky was right – new ways of thinking can be taught, but a child has to be ready to learn those skills.



1. Vygotsky, LS (1930/1978) Mind in Society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
2. Field, D (1981) Can preschool children really learn to conserve? Child Development, 52: 326–34.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Vygotsky I
L. S. Vygotsky
Thought and Language Cambridge, MA 1986

Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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