"Learning is more than the acquisition of the ability to think; it is the acquisition of many specialised abilities for thinking about a variety of things." - Lev Vygotsky, Mind in Society, 1978
Lev Vygotsky Is Best Known For:
Vygotsky's Early Life:
Lev Vygotsky was born in Orsha, a city in the western region of the Russian Empire. He attended Moscow State University, where he graduated with a degree in law in 1917. He studied a range of topics white attending university, including sociology, linguistics, psychology and philosophy. However, his formal work in psychology did not begin until 1924 when he attended the Institute of Psychology in Moscow and began collaborating with Alexei Leontiev and Alexander Luria. 1
Lev Vygotsky was a prolific writer, publishing six books on psychology topics over a ten year period. His interests were quite diverse, but often centered on topics of child development and education. He also explored such topics as the psychology of art and language development.
Some of the major theories developed by Lev Vygotsky include:
- Zone of Proximal Development: According to Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development is "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers." Parents and teachers can foster learning by providing educational opportunities that lie within a child's zone of proximal development.
- Sociocultural Theory: Lev Vygostsky also suggested that human development results from a dynamic interaction between individuals and society.2 Through this interaction, children learn gradually and continuously from parent and teachers. This learning, however, can vary from one culture to the next. It is important to note that Vygotsky's theory emphasizes the dynamic nature of this interaction. Society doesn't just impact people; people also impact their society.
Vygostky's life was cut tragically short in 1934, when he died of tuberculosis at the age of 38.
Contributions to Psychology:
Lev Vygotsky is considered a seminal thinker in psychology, and much of his work is still being discovered and explored today. While he was a contemporary of Skinner, Pavlov, Freud and Piaget, his work never attained their level of eminence during his lifetime. Part of this was because his work was often criticized by the Communist Party in Russia, and so his writings were largely inaccessible to the Western world. His premature death at age 38 also contributed to his obscurity.
Despite this, his work has continued to grow in influence since his death, particularly in the fields of developmental and educational psychology.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (original work published in 1934).
Vygotsky, L.S. (1987). Thinking and speech. (N. Minick. Trans.). New York: Plenum Press.
If you are interested in reading some of Lev Vygotsky's works, many of his writings are available in full-text format at the Vygotsky Internet Archive
1 Gallagher, C. (1999). Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky. Found online at http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psycweb/history/vygotsky.htm
2 Woolfolk, Anita E. (1998). Educational Psychology Seventh Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon