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Introduction to Sociocultural Learning Theory

Introduction to Sociocultural Learning Theory

Author: Trisha Fyfe

In this lesson, you will learn about Vygotsky's Sociocultural Learning Theory, including the main components related to how individuals learn.

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Source: Image light, Public Domain,; Image of children and circle, Public Domain,

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Welcome. I'm Tricia Fyfe. And in today's video lesson, I will cover the topic of an introduction to sociocultural learning theory. As we learn about this topic, we will work towards several learning objectives. And together, we'll use the following two questions to guide our learning in this lesson.

First, what is Vygotsky's sociocultural learning theory? And also, how does this apply to us as teachers? Let's dive right into sociocultural learning theory. This theory is strongly rooted in the work of Lev Vygotsky. While others took part in the development of this theory, he continues to be the individual who is associated with sociocultural learning theory, otherwise known as social development theory.

There are three areas that are the focus of sociocultural learning theory. The first is the idea that the basis for learning is social interaction. Cognition stems from interaction with others. And therefore, social learning exists before cognition is fully developed. As adults, we communicate with others, including children, to give them information.

As we've developed and adapted intellectually, we can connect the process of this back to language. As we interact socially, we develop language. And these interactions, they stem from our cultural environment. All of this contributes to learning. Another element of this theory, says Vygotsky, is the concept of the more knowledgeable other.

This is essentially an individual, peer, coach, teacher, or even a computer, in some instances. Someone or something that has a greater understanding and a higher level and ability than the other in the relationship. The role of the more knowledgeable other is to model desired behaviors and actions, as well as give support.

This assists with the process of learning. The third idea within sociocultural learning theory is the zone of proximal development. Language and learning occurs within this zone. And as coaches and teachers, we should strive to guide our learners here. This is the place in learning that is between the novice learner, who is unable to complete a task without assistance, and the expert learner, who is completely independent in that same task.

When we meet in the middle, this is where learning takes place. To better understand this theory, let's compare and contrast Piaget and Vygotsky. Piaget believed that knowledge cannot be given to children. But instead, we must give children learning experiences. These learning experiences then assist in constructing knowledge.

This learning generally takes place in one of two ways. By the process of assimilation or a combination. Assimilation is the ability of the child to assimilate or fit the new learning into their existing schema or patterns of thought. Accommodation, on the other hand, is when learning takes place that does not fit into these existing patterns of thought and the learner's forced to adapt or create a new schema.

Essentially, the learner has to reorganize their knowledge. Both of these result in learning. Piaget also believes that cognitive development comes before social interaction. We're equipped with a cognitive process and information and then learning takes place when social actions occur. Vygotsky theorized that culture shapes development and cognitive development is greatly impacted by social interaction.

At the opposite end of the spectrum as Piaget, Vygotsky believed that the social interactions are in place before cognitive development. Social interactions and the ability to process and understand language leads to cognitive development. Until children are approximately three years old, these two language and thought, or cognition, are two separate systems, he believed.

As the brain develops, these two merge into one. When we consider the classroom environment, there are many examples of this theory in action. Let's take a look at two examples of sociocultural learning theory in the classroom. Reciprocal teaching and scaffolding.

Reciprocal teaching is a great tool for connecting sociocultural learning theory to the classroom. There are four parts to the process of reciprocal teaching, to summarize, clarify, predict, and question. This activity is collaborative in nature as the teacher generally first models the strategy. And then the teachers and students work together through the process of summarizing, clarifying, predicting, and questioning until the students are able to move through the motions independently.

Language is an important element in learning, according to sociocultural learning theory. And reciprocal teaching offers many opportunities to communicate and work together. Interacting socially. Learning is sure to take place from these social interactions. Scaffolding is another activity that's often used in the classroom and it could be related back to sociocultural learning theory, as well.

As teachers, scaffolding is used to bridge the gap from novice learners to learners that are more independent in a concept or task. This goes back to the idea of the more knowledgeable other. These individuals are more knowledgeable and able. Therefore, can assist the others through the process of learning.

The goal is to bring the two closer together in their learning. And the more knowledgeable other can be a peer, teacher, or even a computer. Let's now discuss coaching is supported by sociocultural learning theory. We'll first go back to the idea of the more knowledgeable other. This is the coach in the coaching relationship.

We can assume that the coach, does, in fact, have more knowledge and expertise and that they are competent and able to guide the teacher through learning. The coach's job is to assist the teacher in performing skills, or gaining knowledge that will lead them to success in their professional and instructional goals that have been set. Coaching is also very collaborative in nature.

We've talked about the fact that it is a partnership, not evaluative in nature. The teacher and the coach must work together in an effective way as they determine challenges, model actions and strategies, make observations, communicate findings, and reflect on all of this process.

Language also promotes learning, because the coach and teacher partnership is so collaborative in nature. There is constant discussion. Discourse is encouraged and reflection is essential. Questioning strategies are often used to promote communication and keep the momentum going.

Let's talk about what we learned today. We looked at the following two questions. What is that Vygotsky's sociocultural learning theory and how does this apply to us as teachers? In today's lesson, we took a deep look at sociocultural learning theory. We talked about the fact that the basis for sociocultural learning theory is that language and social interaction are essential to learning.

Also essential to learning is the concept of the more knowledgeable other. We looked at what sociocultural learning theory looks like in the classroom by exploring reciprocal teaching and scaffolding. And I guided you through how sociocultural learning theory relates to the teacher-coach relationship.

Now that you're more familiar with these concepts, let's reflect. What are the benefits of understanding Vygtosky's sociocultural learning theory? What connections do you see between instructional coaching and this theory? Thanks for joining me today in discussing the lesson introduction to sociocultural learning theory.

I hope you found value in this video lesson and these ideas and you're able to apply them to your classroom and coaching relationships. To dive a little deeper and learn how to apply this information, be sure to check out the additional resources section associated with this video. This is where you'll find links targeted toward helping you discover more ways to apply this course material.

Notes on “Introduction to Sociocultural Learning Theory”


(00:00- 00:23) Introduction/Objectives

(00:24- 02:20) What is Sociocultural Learning Theory?

(02:21- 04:01) Piaget Vs. Vygotsky

(04:02- 05:30) Sociocultural Learning Theory and the Classroom

(05:31- 06:42) Sociocultural Learning Theory and Coaching

(06:43- 07:23) Recap

(07:24- 08:04) Reflection 

Additional Resources

Instructional Coaching: Building Theory About the Role and Organizational Support for Professional Learning

This article reveals that instructional coaching is an important embedded professional development model that improves both the teacher's and the coach's practice.

Instructional & Leadership Coaching: Embedded Professional Development

This journal includes a compilation of articles and resources for the purpose of implementing instructional coaching. This journal is the result of the work of Washington State Kappan.