Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky all contributed to the world of child cognitive development. Their theories were used and build on by researchers that came after them to develop new models and theories. Their theories seem to agree that the development of an individual starts from childhood and keep on building up in the individual’s social life as an adult. The theories seem to agree that these developments on the individual are not reversible at any stage of the development.
Vygotsky’s theory focused on historical, cultural, and social factors of learning and the role played by social communication and interaction. He emphasized that language and thinking were the tools used by society (Oakley, 2004 p.9). Moreover, he focused on mediation so as to facilitate learning and described several ways that mediation could be done. Vygotsky focused on the social learning to be more important and came before development of the child. Vygotsky built a strong base in psychology on which many principles of development have to be based.
Jean Piaget described intelligence as a necessity that ensures equilibrium for the correlation of child and the environment (Oakley, 2004 p.37). This development never ceases and continues throughout a lifetime and leads to expansion of the field of schemes hence increasing coordination, interiorization and abstraction through a mechanism of reflective abstraction. Reflective abstraction slowly leads to a rejection of external sensor motor operations and preserving the mental, planning or anticipatory parts of operation (Garton, 2004 p.28). Piaget has identified four levels of development; infancy, preschool, childhood, and adolescent, all at which intelligence capacity is different and increases quantitatively, thus the child has broader, more abstract, and more equilibrated structures.
Differences and similarities
There are three major differences of the Vygotsky and Piaget theories which include cultural, social, and the role of language. In terms of culture (also referred as the tool of intellectual adaptation), Piaget and Vygotsky both agreed on the infants being born with natural intellect. However, while Piaget focuses on motor reflexes and sensory abilities, Vygotsky focuses on attention, sensation, perception and memory (Coon, & Mitterer, 2008 p.101) which he calls the higher mental functions that enable a child use basic mental functions effectively/adaptively.
In social influences, both believed that young children are curious and active in learning, discovering, development, and understanding of new things. Vygotsky emphasized on the social contribution while Piaget emphasized on self initiatives discovery.
Vygotsky viewed most of the learning of new things was due to the presence of a tutor who had responsibility to model and shape the child’s behaviors and provide verbal instructions for the child. This led to the concepts of the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPM). Vygotsky explained that language was an important aspect of cognitive development since it influences the organization and thus development of thought in an individual (Oakley, 2004, p.40). On the other hand, Piaget never discussed the concept of language and described intellect as the main influence of language in the mental operations.
One of the concepts that influenced cognitive development through language was the inner speech where, as opposed to Piaget, Vygotsky held the fact that the self focused speech of the child’s external never disappeared but went through a transformation in terms of dialect which enabled development of inner speech. In addition, the cognitive development in a child was more influenced not only by the cultural and social environment the individual was exposed to, but also by the learning and support received from the experienced others in a concept referred to as zone of proximity according to the view of Vygotsky. However, Piaget only recognized the zone of proximity as the primary factor that contributed to the development of an individual and that environment and social influences had no bearing in cognitive development. While Vygotsky also described the effects of disability in the development of the individual in his theory Piaget never included the concept.
Coon, D. & Mitterer, J.O. (2008). Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior. Ed.12. New York: Cengage Learning.
Garton, A. (2004). Exploring cognitive development: the child as problem solver. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Oakley, A. (2004). Cognitive development. New York: Routledge.