Social Constructivism - Vygotsky

By: Michelle. W, Iyanuoluwa. A, Catherine. A

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Brief Definition (of the Theory/ Perspective) - Key Contributors:

Key Contributors

John Dewey

Jean Piaget

Lev Vygotsky

Jerome Bruner

Brief Definition

Building on the cognitivist constructivism theory of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky sort to further explain the influence social interactions had on learning. According to Vygotsky, language and culture play a fundamental role in cognitive development, which frames how individuals experience, communicate, and understand reality. Therefore, language and culture play an important role in the construction and understanding of knowledge. Vygotsky believed that “cognitive functions originate in, and must therefore be explained as products of socials interactions, and that learning was not simply the assimilation and accommodation of new knowledge by learners” (GSI, 2015 as cited in Vygotsky, 1978).

“Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people” (Karen Stephenson, n.d).

Theory’s Key Goals/ Objectives

Student directed

Student centered

Learning that takes place through social interaction of groups


"Knowledge is a human construction and that the learner is an active participant in the learning process" (Vygotsky, 1978).

Positive Attributes (This theory allows for)

  • Collaborative nature of learning

  • Use of teamwork skills

  • Peer interaction

  • Form of Reciprocal teaching

  • Cooperative learning

  • Situated learning

  • Problem-solving approach

  • Collaborative learning

Negative Attributes (Drawbacks)

  • Potential for lack of direction

  • Time constraint

  • “There is no absolute knowledge, just our interpretation of it” (UCD, 2015)

  • Assumption is that learning takes place only through social settings/interaction

  • Social interaction may be challenging for learners with disabilities, introverted students

  • Potential for lack of structure

  • Possible impact on grading (in terms of student participation)

  • Students may be reluctant to give up their established ideas/schema

Role of the Learner

  • Construct their knowledge through inquiry process
  • Active participation in their learning
  • Learners need to test ideas, skills and information through relevant activities

  • In social constructivism learners play a vital role in learning

  • Learners are responsible for their learning

  • Learners need to receive different lenses to see things while learning

Role of the Teacher

  • Teacher act as a guide
  • Make learning environment safe & conducive for learners
  • Encourage development through inter-subjectivity
  • Teacher should consider the knowledge and the experiences of learners
  • Teacher should provide necessary resources to facilitate ‘discovery’
  • Provide sufficient flexible learning programs
  • Guide learners through the ZDP

  • Acknowledge, respect, and appreciate individual learner's’ perspectives

Application to Adult Learning

  • Hands-on activity relevant to present occupation/simulation
  • Situated learning
  • Anchored instruction
  • Utilize problem based approach to learning using inquiry process
  • Adult learners require active involvement in learning environment - Social Constructivism theory encourages learner engagement and a dynamic learning environment; as each learner provides a unique experience and insight.
  • The Social Constructivist Theory supports adult learning theories in that learners are encouraged to engage and learn from the experiences and perspectives of their learning community rather than traditional approaches to learner (teacher-led).


GSI: Teaching and Resource Center (2015). Social Constructivism. Retrieved October 8, 2015 from

P2P Foundation. (2012). Constructivist Learning Theory (George Siemens). Retrieved Ocotber 8, 2015 from

Straus, S.E., Tetroe, J., & MA, Graham, I. (2009). Defining knowledge translation. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 181(3-4), pp. 165-168. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.081229

Social Constructivist Theory. (2015). Retrieved October 8, 2015 from

Smith, M. K. (2003). Learning theory, the encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved October 8, 2015 from

Thomas, A., Menon, A., Boruff, J., Rodriguez, A. M., & Ahmed, S. (2014). Applications of social constructivist learning theories in knowledge translation for healthcare professionals: a scoping review. Implementation Science : IS, 9, 54.

UCD (Dublin). 2015. Education Theory: Constructivism and Social Constructivism. Retrieved October 8, 2015 from

Vygotsky L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press