Learning from differences and collaborating in diversity according to Lev Vygotsky


Content. (1) Individual embodiment of increasingly global social contexts, (2) Globally influenced mediation of learning, (3) Extension of the proximate to a collaborative zone of development, (4) Integrating differences for rich and demanding learning opportunities

1 Individual embodiment of increasingly global social contexts

Since Vygotsky’s time earlier in the last century, communication has become globalized and is transforming education possibilities [1]. On the quest for theoretical concepts that can help the study of education in our globalized era, Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory appears still to be of value [2]. According to Vygotsky, an individual is the embodiment of its social context. A person is, therefore, the sum of the social environment, being a self and not a self at the same time. What respectively who somebody is becoming is dependent on the diversity of relationships one encounter [3].

2 Globally influenced mediation of learning

Vygotsky did not foresee explicitly the locality of learning extended to global influences, but his theory is flexible enough to account for global and national information being brought into the immediate local environment through imagining models, and symbols used by the teacher that are informed by global sources [2]. The signs used to mediate learning, e.g., language, symbols, graphs, texts, etc. [1] are often sourced from anywhere in the world. The spatial dimension, in comparison to time, was relatively neglected by Vygotsky. Therefore, using his theories, spatiality should be considered a more integrative factor as communication has become intensified through its increasing borderless, real-time, complex, and widespread nature. Globalization and related space/time compression is transforming individuals’ imaginative options and expands human agency [1].

3 Extension of the proximate to a collaborative zone of development

The ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ (ZPD) is defined by Vygotsky as ‘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’ [4]. For a teacher to meet a learner’s needs is especially tricky in a class of diverse skill levels as the level of scaffolding needs to be adapted to individual zones of proximal development [5]. On the other side, ZPD learning happens at the intersection of differences between a more knowledgeable other and the learner while the gaps on both sides remain mutable too. Therefore, learning in the ZPD should be rather seen as a continuous collaboration rather than a fixed relationship [6]. The dialogic characteristic of learning caused some researchers to expand the concept of ZPD to a zone of collaborative development (ZCD), emphasizing the collaboration in groups, and therefore recognizing the presence and importance of diversity, in problem-solving problems in a globalized world [7].

4 Integrating differences for rich and demanding learning opportunities

Supportive of learning in the ZPD under the influence of mediation by global artefacts thanks to the Internet and mobility are the creation of a trustful study environment, the facilitation of self-reflection, and factoring in that the internalization of lessons learned occurs in local contexts [7]. Education should be fostered by a culture that is allowing for collaboration and emotional participation in the learning process and by not leveling out differences but integrating differences that are providing for rich learning opportunities [8]. Diversity may also support demanding enough circumstances favorable for learning in the ZPD [9].

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[1] Marginson, S., & Dang, T. A. (2017). Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory in the Context of Globalization. Asia Pacific Journal Of Education, 37(1), 116-129.

[2] Anh, D. K., & Marginson, S. (2013). Global learning through the lens of Vygotskian sociocultural theory. Critical Studies In Education, 54(2), 143-159. doi:10.1080/17508487.2012.722557

[3] Zanella, A. V. (2010). Reflections on alterity from Lev S. Vygotsky’s theory. Cultural-Historical Psychology, 32-5.

[4] Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher mental processes, eds & trans. M.Cole, V.John-Steiner, S.Scribner & E.Souberman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[5] Bekiryazıcı, M. (2015). Teaching Mixed-Level Classes with a Vygotskian Perspective. Procedia – Social And Behavioral Sciences, 186(The Proceedings of 5th World Conference on Learning, Teaching and Educational Leadership), 913-917. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.04.163

[6] Webster, J. P., & John, T. A. (2010). Preserving a space for cross-cultural collaborations: an account of insider/outsider issues. Ethnography & Education, 5(2), 175-191. doi:10.1080/17457823.2010.493404

[7] Balakrishnan, V., & Claiborne, L. B. (2012). Vygotsky from ZPD to ZCD in moral education: Reshaping Western theory and practices in local context. Journal Of Moral Education, 41(2), 225-243. doi:10.1080/03057240.2012.678056

[8] Hwang, S. (2009). A Vygotskian approach to heterogeneous communication and multi/cultural literacy: Commentary on David Kellogg’s ‘Taking uptaking up, or, a deconstructionist ‘Ontology of difference’ and a developmental one.’. Mind, Culture, And Activity, 16(2), 191-197. doi:10.1080/10749030802590614

[9] Damber, U. (2009). Reading, Schooling, and Future Time Perspective: A Small-Scale Study of Five Academically Successful Young Swedes. International Journal Of Learning, 16(1), 235-248.