Not content with fossilising 50 year old theory from Bloom, Gagne and Kirkpatrick, the learning world digs even deeper into the past to bring back to life a guy who died in 1934!
Having worked my way through 'Thought and Language' and 'Mind in Society' along with several other Vygotsky texts, I'll be damned if I can see what all the fuss is about. He is to the psychology of learning what Lysenko was to genetics. Indeed the parallel with Lysenko is quite apposite. Forgoing the idea of genetics he sees interventionist, social mediation as the sole source of cognitive development. Vygotsky is a sort of ‘tabla rasa’ Lamarkian learning theorist.
Vygotsky’s psychology is clearly rooted in the dialectical historicism of Hegel and Marx. We know this because he repeatedly tell us. His focus on the role of language, and the way it shapes our learning and thought, defines his social psychology and learning theory. Behaviour is shaped by the context of a culture, and schools reflect that culture. He goes further, driving social influence right down to the level of interpersonal interactions. These interpersonal interactions, he thinks, mediate the development of children’s higher mental functions, such as thinking, reasoning, problem solving, memory, and language. He took larger dialectical themes and applied them to interpersonal communication and learning. This is in direct contradiction to almost everything we now know about the mind and its modular structure.
For him, psychology becomes sociology as all psychological phenomena are seen as social constructs. In this respect he reverses Piaget’s position that development comes first and learning second. Vygotsky puts learning before development - asort of social behaviourist. He's simply wrong.
Very specifically he prescribes a method of instruction that keeps the learner in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This is the difference between what can be known on one’s own and what can potentially be known. To progress, one must interact with peers who are ahead of the game through social interaction, a dialectical process between learner and peer. This is not theory, it’s a trite observation.
The rarely read Vygotsky appeals to those who see teaching and instruction as a necessary condition for learning – it is NOT. It also appeals to sociologists who see culture as a the determinant factor in all learning – it is NOT . As a pre-Chomskian linguist, his theories of language are dated and still rooted in now discredited dialectical materialism.
Sorry - gone on a bit here - but soviet sociology is not psychology.