I have always felt drawn towards Vygotsky’s socio-constructivist views on how learning comes about. He establishes that communication is critical to the development of thought and behaviour and puts forward the notion of the “zone of proximal development”1 or ZPD.
The ZPD is defined as the greater range of tasks that a child can complete with the guidance and assistance of others – be they adults or other children – as opposed to the tasks a child can complete independently.
Thus, according to socio-constructivist views, close contact between the learner and those within the ZPD helps individuals make sense of what is being learnt and stretches the learning beyond what any single student would have been able to construct in isolation.
The penny is dropping
When Vygotsky first fleshed out the socio-constructivist narrative in the early 20th century, he could not have foreseen how technological advances would enable communication on an unprecedented scale less than a century later. In fact, his theories are given renewed significance by the emergent social networks currently establishing themselves as the preferred means of communication of humankind.
Our education system has arguably changed little in structure and ethos since it became institutionalised in the XIX century2. However, for many in education, the penny is currently in the process of dropping as they begin to realise that social media could provide school communities with a low-cost, high-value platform in which teachers and learners could remain in close contact and interact beyond the constraints of the school walls, and within which the teacher would be able to provide the learner with further personalised feedback and support to that already provided in the physical learning environment.
It is important to highlight the importance of the physical learning environment at this point, for it is rather easy to get mired in fundamentally silly and ultimately false dichotomies regarding learning environments: I think that a virtual learning environment is not a substitute for its physical counterpart, but rather an extension of it.
Social construction of knowledge theories applied to the 21st century therefore allow us to conceive traditional classroom teaching and the emerging pedagogies as two sides of the same coin. From this perspective, there are not two distinct learning environments, but rather a single multidimensional one that encompasses all aspects of teaching and learning.
What do you think?
Many thanks to sourbrew for the photo.