For a general intro to constructivism click: Overview of constructivism.

Overview of Social Constructivism

Another cognitive psychologist, Lev Vygotsky (, shared many of Piaget's (  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.

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,

Additional Information

Social Constructivism

In contrast to the individual-cognitive constructivist, the socio-cultural constructivist locates the mind in the individual-in-social action. Learning, then, is primarily a process of enculturation into a community of practice.


PC is to Piaget as WWW is to Vygotsky

The author of this on-line article makes an interesting comparison:


Instructional Design Perspectives on Mathematics Education with Reference to Vygotsky's Theory of Social Cognition

The purpose of this web page is to offer some perspectives on mathematics education from an instructional design viewpoint. The authors do this in a somewhat eclectic fashion, beginning with an overview of the ideological "paradigm wars" within the instructional design community. Alternative philosophies of mind, including Vygotsky's emphasis on the social origins of cognition, have implications for the teaching of mathematics, as well as for instructional design generally. The authors conclude with some recommendations for the instructional design of mathematics education curricula that are consistent with a Vygotskian framework.


The role of culture in Vygotskyean-informed psychology

This web page is a source of the main thrust of Vygotsky's general developmental framework, as well as offering a contrast to the Piagetian approach.


Talk of saying, showing, gesturing, and feeling in Wittgenstein and Vygotsky

This on-line article is a "reading" of Vygotsky's central notions through the work of Wittgenstein.


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