Jean Piaget shaped a new way of thinking and looking at the stages of development. Piaget’s research proved that the way children think is qualitatively different from the thinking patterns of adults. According to Piaget’s theory, even young children attempt to make sense of their world by constructing reality, rather than simply acquiring knowledge. Social interaction is a factor in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Piaget defines social interaction as the interchange of ideas among people. This interchange of ideas leads to the construction of knowledge, which is incorporated into the individual’s schemata. Schemata evolve over time as new ideas are constantly being integrated and schemata change or adapt to fit new ideas. Piaget’s theory outlines a continuum of development where new schemata do not replace old schemata, but instead change the schemata or add to them. Through this process social knowledge is formed. Piaget argues that social knowledge, such as the concept of honesty, does not have physical references, such as the concept of a tree. For example, a child develops the socially acceptable concept of tree through physical knowledge, which is relatively independent of others. In contrast, the child cannot develop a socially acceptable independent construct of the concept of honesty. The child must construct this social knowledge through watching others and incorporating that information into her schemata. The child depends on social interaction for the construction and validation of social knowledge. Piaget states that social interaction exists on multiple levels; it can take place in the classroom or at home. Social interaction occurs between students, teachers, parents, and others within the environment. Piaget’s theory supports the claim that all forms of social interaction and experience are equally important in the child’s intellectual development.
Like Piaget, Vygotsky is particularly interested in the intersection between individual development and social relations. One of the most important points Vygotsky addresses is that of scaffolding, which views children as actively constructing themselves and their environment. The social environment acts as the framing that permits a child to move forward and continue growth. Vygotsky argues that one of the most important components of scaffolding is the engagement of children in interesting and culturally meaningful problem solving activities. This leads into what Vygotsky terms the Zone of Proximal Development. This is a range of experiences that are challenging yet manageable.
The main difference between Piaget and Vygotsky is that Piaget believed that children go through set stages of cognitive development, and Vygotsky believed that cognitive development is continual.
Piaget and Vygotsky both focused on child development. Piaget believed that children went through specific stages. His stages were Sensorimotor (infant), Preoperational (toddler through early elementary), Concrete operational (school age) and Formal operational (adolescence through adulthood).
Vygotsky believed that learning occurs along a spectrum. He coined the term zone of proximal development to describe the sweet spot between what a child already knows and what he does not know yet. The middle ground, the ZPD, is where children can learn with assistance.