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date: 19 October 2019

Vygotskian Theory of Development

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

Russian followers of Vygotsky have elaborated his theoretical ideas into an innovative theory of development. In this theory, children’s development is viewed as the major outcome of adult mediation: adults engage children in the age-specific joint activity (the so-called leading activity) and, in the context of this activity, promote the development in children of a new motive, and teach them new tools of thinking, problem solving, and self-regulation. As a result, children outgrow their current leading activity and transition to the new leading activity, which is specific to their next age period. Vygotskians have described the following leading activities of children in industrialized societies:

- First year of life: emotional interactions with caregivers.

- Second and third years of life: object-centered joint activity with caregivers.

- Three- to six-year-olds: sociodramatic play.

- The period of middle childhood: learning at school.

- The period of adolescence: interactions with peers.

Vygotskian developmental theory has found strong empirical support in the studies of contemporary researchers. Its major strength relates to the fact that it integrates in a meaningful way motivational, cognitive, and social factors as resulting in children’s engagement in the age-specific leading activity. This theory also provides an explanation of the mechanism of children’s transition from one developmental stage to the next stage, which many alternative theories of development fail to do. Some of the Vygotskians’ notions, however, weaken their analysis and can be disputed (this relates, for example, to a disregard by Vygotskians of the role of physiological maturation in children’s development).