Lev Vygotsky and Reuven Feuerstein are notable contributors to the constructivist method of learning in educational theory. This method emphasises the active, dynamic and levelled nature of learning (Crowther, 1997), and these psychologists contributed by legitimising the employment of social interaction in the learning process…
Building therefore on this base, Vygotsky developed a theory in which society and culture contribute to the learning process of children and is in large part responsible for their learning. Feuerstein's great contribution has usually been to operationalize the concepts propounded by Vygotsky. Such components as sociocultural mediation and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), identified by Vygotsky, have been further developed and probed by the capable instruments created by Feuerstein for enhancement of mediated learning. The theories of social and cultural mediation as propounded by Vygotsky and Feuerstein will be explored in this essay. It will also consider the ZPD and the instruments that have been developed to enhance learning using these theories.
Vygotsky argues that children develop higher levels of cognition through the mediation that occurs in a social context. Lower mental processes are genetic and instinctive; they come naturally to an individual. The higher mental processes, on the other hand, are definitive of a cognitive stage unique in man as a species through which he is able to distance himself from the world and, through the use of various symbols and in conjunction with other men, abstractly manipulate its contents to extract and develop his knowledge and understanding of them (Panofsky, 2003). Because of the meaning these higher mental functions have for society, and because they exist before (and independent of) the individual, they must be learned through mediation. This means that higher levels of cognition are necessarily mediated by society, and it is only once a lesson is learned on the societal level that it becomes internalised and manifests itself on a psychological level. Social agents of mediation take a variety of forms and provide the learner with access to what has been given a variety of names ranging from psychological, to cultural or cognitive tools (Smagorinski). How a human person acts within a given society is dependent on the forms and qualities of interactions available to him as a model. If adequate mediation is provided, learning occurs; if not, learning suffers. This theory then goes on to describe the child and/or learner as limited in his or her ability to acquire knowledge when left on his own. What a child is able to perform when placed in a social setting is almost invariably more than that which he or she is able to do alone, and this additional capability gives the educator an idea of the child's potential (Salomon and Perkins, 1998). This potential (denoted by Vygotsky as the Zone of Proximal Development) cannot be realised, however, unless learning is mediated by another in a social setting.
Feuerstein also advocated the theory of mediation in learning. He developed the cognitive map which denotes the dimensions of cognition, and contributed to the mediation theory by formulating an operation that delineates the different stages and participants in the mediation process. The Mediated Learning Experience (MLE) he defined as "The quality of interaction directed towards ensuring meaningful learning by parents, teachers, caregivers and peers, interposed between the child and the stimuli they receive" (Feuerstein). It was his idea that these social mediators ...
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