The Zone of Proximal Development

Learn about the zone of proximal development and how to use it to get the most out of your staff in this lesson.

Learning theory

We’re going to dip into learning theory to see whether we can find out more. Notably, we’re going to look at a concept called the zone of proximal development, which was a theory originally proposed by Lev Vygotsky in the 1930s. This concept was introduced to better understand how children could be best supported by teachers during their education. During that time, there were contradictory teaching theories and practices. Schools would predominantly use traditional teacher-led instruction followed by frequent assessments, whereas a fellow psychologist Jean Piaget believed that children learned best when development was self-directed.

Vygotsky saw that while this curiosity-led development works well for some subjects, for example, children learn the verbal language with little teaching, for most other subjects, the presence of a more knowledgeable individual was needed to best advance the child’s learning. This was particularly true of mathematics and writing.

What is the zone of proximal development?

The zone of proximal development defines the area in which a person cannot progress without the presence of another person with a higher skill set to assist them. However, once the person has understood and completed the task, they are able to take on tasks of even greater difficulty, pushing their zone of proximal development toward harder and harder tasks. Therefore, the best teachers and schools are able to keep children in their zones of proximal development. The diagram illustrates the concept.

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