Overview of Social Constructivism

Another cognitive psychologist, Lev Vygotsky (http://www.ced.appstate.edu/vybio.html), shared many of Piaget's (http://education.indiana.edu/~cep/courses/p540/vygosc.html)  assumptions about how children learn, but he placed more emphasis on the social context of learning. Piaget's cognitive theories have been used as the foundation for discovery learning ( models in which the teacher plays a limited role. In Vygotsky's theories both teachers and older or more experienced children play very important roles in learning.

There is a great deal of overlap between cognitive constructivism and Vygotsky's social constructivist theory. However, Vygotsky's constructivist theory, which is often called social constructivism, has much more room for an active, involved teacher. For Vygotsky the culture gives the child the cognitive tools needed for development. The type and quality of those tools determines, to a much greater extent than they do in Piaget's theory, the pattern and rate of development. Adults such as parents and teachers are conduits for the tools of the culture, including language. The tools the culture provides a child include cultural history, social context, and language. Today they also include electronic forms of information access.

Although Vygotsky died at the age of 38 in 1934, most of his publications did not appear in English until after 1960. There are, however, a growing number of applications of social constructivism in the area of educational technology. One such use was described by Martin (1992).

We call Vygotsky's brand of constructivism social constructivism because he emphasized the critical importance of culture and the importance of the social context for cognitive development. Vygotsky's the zone of proximal development is probably his best-known concept. It argues that students can, with help from adults or children who are more advanced, master concepts and ideas that they cannot understand on their own.

There are thousands of books, articles, and papers on the theories of Vygotsky and the implications of those theories for teaching and learning. This brief summary cannot do the theory justice, but if you would like to explore Vygotsky's basic ideas more thoroughly, the links below are all rich sources of information:

General Implications of Social Constructivism

If Vygotsky is correct and children develop in social or group settings, the use of technology to connect rather than separate students from one another would be very appropriate use.

A constructivist teacher creates a context for learning in which students can become engaged in interesting activities that encourages and facilitates learning. The teacher does not simply stand by, however, and watch children explore and discover. Instead, the teacher may often guide students as they approach problems, may encourage them to work in groups to think about issues and questions, and support them with encouragement and advice as they tackle problems, adventures, and challenges that are rooted in real life situations that are both interesting to the students and satisfying in terms of the result of their work. Teachers thus facilitate cognitive growth and learning as do peers and other members of the child's community.

All classrooms in which instructional strategies compatible with Vygotsky's social constructivist approach are used don't necessarily look alike. The activities and the format can vary considerably. However, four principles are applied in any Vygotskian classroom.

1. Learning and development is a social, collaborative activity.
2. The Zone of Proximal Development can serve as a guide for curricular and lesson planning.
3. School learning should occur in a meaningful context and not be separated from learning and knowledge children develop in the "real world.".
4. Out-of-school experiences should be related to the child's school experience.

Types of Instruction of Social Constructivism

Technology provides essential tools with which to accomplish the goals of a social constructivist classroom. Below are a few examples of the way information technology can support social constructivist teaching and learning:

Examples of Social Constructivist Classroom Activities


Reading/ Writing Workshop 

Whole Language 

Situated  Learning 

Collaborative  Learning 

Anchored  Instruction

Games, Simulations,
Case-Based Instruction,