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Instructional Design Models and Theories: The Sociocultural Learning Theory

Leo Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, introduced the Sociocultural Learning Theory. His quote that “through others we become ourselves” could be the quintessence of the Sociocultural Learning Theory, which supports that learning is a social process.
Instructional Design Models and Theories: The Sociocultural Learning Theory

The Quintessential of the Sociocultural Learning Theory

Vygotsky wrote his work "Thinking and Speaking" in 1934, and he died a while later at the age of 37 from tuberculosis. It is important to mention that his work was forbidden by Stalin in the Soviet Union for almost 20 years till Stalin died in 1953. So, it was several decades after his death that his work became widely known and appreciated in the West. In fact, the first significant and most comprehensive book, till then, concerning his work and theories was published in 1978 by Harvard University Press. This book was edited by a group of outstanding Vygotsky’s scholars and it was only then that Vygotsky’s most significant writings were translated into English and became well known in the West.

The Sociocultural Learning Theory is based upon the idea that a learner's environment plays a pivotal role in his/her learning development. According to Vygotsky the learning process actually involves three key themes: culture, language, and the “zone of proximal development”.

The 3 Key Themes of The Sociocultural Learning Theory

  1. Culture
    Vygotsky suggested that cultures are actually formed through the use of tools and symbols, and that this key distinction is what differentiates the human race from that of animals. Intelligence is achieved when a learner can “internalize” the tools that are being provided in the culture itself. When the tools of a culture evolve and emerge, the learners’ ability to grow as individuals and increase their knowledge base is broadened. As such, according to the Sociocultural Learning Theory, it's important for instructors to understand the human mind from a historical point of view as well as a cultural one.
  2. Language
    According to the Sociocultural Learning Theory, language is a direct result of the symbols and tools that emerge within a culture. An individual is able to learn language through a variety of social events, scenarios and processes, which all result in the acquisition of language. This aspect of the Sociocultural Learning Theory relies upon the idea that learners go through three stages of speech development. First, they must engage in the social environment, which is known as “social speech” and begins at the age of 2. Next, they will learn about “private speech”, which occurs when learners voice their thoughts aloud, and begins at the age of 3. The last is “inner speech”, which takes the form of ideas that remain within our minds and directly impact our behavior or thoughts, and begins at the age of 7.
  3. Zone of Proximal Development
    This is the “gap” or distance that exists between a learner's possible educational development, which is determined through problem solving activities, and the development that actually takes place. This is assessed when learners are asked to engage in problem solving tasks under the supervision of an instructor. Their responses and capabilities are then compared to that of their peers. This assessment is based upon a spectrum, wherein what learners are capable of doing without any assistance is at one end of the spectrum, and what they can do while being assisted is at the other. In essence, the zone allows instructors to learn what a student is not yet capable of doing or has not yet learned, but can be taught with the proper instruction.

Applying The Sociocultural Learning Theory

The Sociocultural Learning Theory also takes into account how learners are impacted by their peers, and how social scenarios impact their ability to acquire information. As such, instructors who apply the Sociocultural Learning Theory in their instructional design can also become aware of how learners may directly impact one another, as well as how cultural “norms” can influence a learner's learning behavior. They can then create an eLearning course plan that integrates the principles of Sociocultural Learning, in order to enhance the effectiveness of the curriculum.

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