The social-constructivist learning theory claims that learning is dependent on socio-cultural influences. Therefore, it is through interaction and exercise of communication that people learn. It is the teacher’s role to create a situation where the learner can compile their own interpretations by using interpretations of others around them. Teachers would do this through the creation of scaffolds. This is where the teacher provides a means for learners to apply already existing skills to acquire new knowledge. In this view, the social-constructivist learning theory is a supporter of Piaget’s work (Constructivism), but they disagree on one key point: Social-constructivism criticizes Constructivism for focusing on the individual learner rather than on the social context in which learning takes place and advocate that interaction between learners, through language, influences the level of conceptual understanding.



The development of Social-Constructivism roots in the work of Russian Psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s view was that learners learn optimally from interaction with their peers, whether their peers are of the same age or of a higher age and whether they had the same development stage or not.

Vygotsky made reference to the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and suggested that there is a difference between what a person is able to do on his own and what they can achieve with the help of somebody who has greater knowledge than them. Vygotsky claimed that if a teacher can provide scaffolds with a focus on interaction during this time then the child’s knowledge could be brought to a higher level as they learn from each other. The zone of proximal development  is best understood as the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. Vygotsky stated that a child follows an adult's or peers’ example and gradually develops the ability to do certain tasks without help or assistance. It is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers. In this view, the best type of learning takes place when the learners are expected to develop skills that are slightly beyond their grasp, but they can develop with the help from peers.

Key principles and classroom implications

The main principles underpinning the social-constructivist learning theory are:

  • Learning is collaborative in nature and the social context is a major factor.
  • All cognitive functions originate as products of social interactions.
  • Learners can transmit knowledge to each other through language, as they are received by other learners, knowledge is co-constructed.
  • It is the teacher’s task to encourage team work and collaboration, organize discussions and debates, provide opportunities for group work and group study.
  • Classrooms need to be places where teachers create environments in which learners feel encouraged and secured enough to be able to express and explore their thoughts, feelings and emotions.


  Constructivism                                                                                                                Cognitivism

Last modified: Friday, 21 August 2020, 4:51 PM