Effect of Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development

Learning is an activity that requires a lot of mental activities and cognitive capability to understand and interpret concepts. Learning involves the acquisition of knowledge, values, behaviors, and preferences through exposure to a variety of information and ideas in the classroom or outside the classroom through practical activities (Daniels 1996, 4). Learning can also involve the reinforcement of the already acquired information on animals, human beings, and machines. Learning can be in the form of theory or practical form and depends on the capability of the learner to absorb the ideas, facts, and skills. Theory learning is achievable through attending schools, education, or advice while practical learning may be in the form of technical training and application of classroom skills. This paper will analyze learning theory and practice as depicted by Vygotsky in his cognitive and practical approach in the early years of schooling. The areas of interest in this research are the capability of the learners to observe, recognize, and put into practice whatever they see and hear. The class of interest is the year two class and the activities will involve observations, listening, active participation in the classwork and outside activities. The researcher will gather information from literature materials to back the appropriateness of the approach by Vygotsky on learners in their early educational stages. The aims and objectives of the paper are analyzing the importance of Vygotsky’s theory in early learning and analyzing the effect of the practical experiences of the learners and their ability to master the practical concepts. The other one is the importance of the practical approaches in classroom activities, and the relationship between Vygotsky’s theory and other theories. The researcher will also examine any limitations of the approach against its benefits in class two learners.

Vygotsky’s cognitive development Theory

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The theorist bases his arguments on the cognitive ability of the learners to the classroom activities, which makes things simpler for the learners to understand and practice the skills learned. According to Vygotsky, the learners get the necessary skills by observing and practicing, which develop them intellectually (Vygotskii, Veer, & Valsiner 1994, 7). The language used by society is a determiner of the learning capability of a young learner as it provides the means of communication and self-expression in the classroom. Vygotsky once said, “A word devoid of thought is a dead thing, and a thought unembodied in words remains a shadow” (Vigotsky 1934, 102). The use of Vygotsky’s theory enables learners to combine their cognitive thoughts and their communication abilities to understand concepts. Cognitive development is very important in growing children as they can master the concepts and ideas through the assistance of the adults.  However, there are students who may have great thoughts but maybe poor communicators. The student can get assistance from the teacher or any other person with some experience. The theories, especially the Vygotsky’s theory, which relate the learners’ to their observational capability, are very important in modern society (Vygotskii, Veer, & Valsiner 1994, 8).

The Benefits of Vygotsky’s Approach in helping the learners in their early school stages (Year 2)

The benefits of the cognitive development of the theory and practical approach in the classroom activities include

Development of technology through innovation

The cognitive learning approach allows learners to apply real-life experiences in the classwork through practical activities and experiments in many areas in and out of the classroom (Fox 1997, 728). Learners achieve a lot when exposed to experimental methods of learning especially with the use of computers in the classroom activities. The learners understand better through their inventions as they experiment with the learning tools. For example, in a year-two class, I gave a learner some pebbles to help with sound patterns. For the first sound, the learner was to use one pebble as he pronounced it. For the second sound, the pupil used two pebbles while pronouncing the sound and so on. After a short period of practice, the learner was able to pronounce each of the five sounds perfectly. The achievement made me very happy since the practical method was easy and effective.

Mathematics made easy

Young learners find it very difficult to understand numbers, especially in the field of Mathematics. The teaching of mathematics requires a lot of participation of the learners in order to incorporate the ideas and the hard concepts (Vigotsky 1934, 23). The approach described by Vygotsky is very important in his field as through their cognitive ability, children can learn to play with numbers and patterns. Experimentation by the year-two learners will help in acquiring the practical skills in mathematics to make the subject more interesting and captivating. Children can engage in counting games and arranging different patterns to aid in their cognitive ability. For example, as I was teaching class two learners I realized that some of them had a good mastery of songs. I decided to teach them this counting song; “One little bird is sitting on the tree, along came another bird, and that makes two. Two little birds are sitting on the tree, along came another bird, and that makes three…………” The song assisted them to count the number up to ten a Vygotsky practical Approach dictates. This method might not work for learners with hearing problems since they will not hear the pronunciation, but it is an excellent method to teach young children.

Enhances the role of the teacher and the older children

According to Vygotsky, learners learn a lot from their teacher and the older children through observation, especially those ahead of them in terms of the class (Moll 1994, 7). The teacher has a big role in guiding and monitoring the learners’ skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Vygotsky said in his book Lev Vygotsky, “Through others, we become ourselves” (Vygotsky 2007, 34). The quote denotes that we need others to live and become role models for observation, imitation, and practice.  Learners who engage in practical activities during class time and those who observe the actions of their role models achieve their future dreams. However, if the learners imitate the people of bad character, they are likely to acquire bad behavior as they grow up. The culture of the classroom is important as it allows the learners to develop their language, cognition, and some cultural values. The values promote the cognitive capability of the learners and help them develop intellectually, technologically, and technically. The stage of learning in young children is the Proximal Development Zone, according to Vygotsky (Moll 1994, 9).

The approach relates the language and the learners’ thinking capacity

The learners have the chance to practice language and perfect their communication skills (Kozulin 199, 8). For example, I went to the class and presented a short play to the learners to act in a single scene. The actors in the play were a cat, a hyena, and a rat, and the theme was about greed. Through their actions, the little actors demonstrated the situation very well, which helped them with the language and mastery skills. The practical method may not work for those children with physical impairments, such as hearing difficulties. Learning should not just be a classroom activity but should extend beyond the school environment, such as the worship places, homes, and in the fields where learners engage in practical activities.

Helps the learner to assimilate the teacher’s concepts

The cognitive and the practical theory explains how the human mind can reorganize materials and ideas learned from the teacher in the young learners of year two through practical performances (Young & Asterita 2013, 174). There are different stages of development and styles of learning in any young mind, which enables the learner to understand and incorporate the knowledge and skills in class and. Practicing continuously and working together with their teacher enables the learners to develop a close relationship, which facilitates the discussion of ideas and new concepts (Moll 1994, 9). Engaging in real-life activities during classwork enables the learners to appreciate their roles in society.

Practical activities lower classroom discrimination

When learners perform different practical activities together, a close relationship develops between them regardless of their race, culture, or country of origin (Young & Asterita 2013, 174). Learners in the early years, such as the year two learners, are too young to understand their social and cultural norms engage the learners in some community activities, such as street cleaning to enable them children experience life outside the classroom and meet many people. The learners learn by experience and can retain that information for a longer time compared to when they just listen to the teacher. The environment outside the classroom brings creative thinking on the issues affecting the nation (Young & Asterita 2013, 173).

Encourages the learner to identify the truth

The theory of cognition and practice can make the learners discover the truth on various concepts and ideas in relation to science and their background (Young & Asterita 2013, 174).  The learners in year two can make conclusions on their own on issues concerning various facts through experiments (Young & Asterita 2013, 174). There is no guesswork in this theory as the cognitive, and the practical approaches provide the avenue for learning a scientific concept and making the right conclusions. One day as I was teaching science in the year two class, a nine-year-old child asked me why when she bent over a bucket of water, her image was upside down. It was not difficult to explain to her since we used a simple experiment to draw the refracted rays to demonstrate the phenomena. It was very interesting to the child, which helped the child to change her attitude towards the sciences. When students learn to investigate the truth before making conclusions, there is the possibility that the learners will have scientific and research skills. However, some students find it difficult to understand science regardless of the approach used (Sternlicht 1994, 10).

Learners’ responsibility enhancement

The cognitive and practice approach requires the learner to participate fully in the learning process and not depend on the teacher’s contributions only. In the traditional modes of learning, the learners were passive, and only the tutor could contribute to the ideas and the students only relied on the understanding of the teacher (Sternlicht 1994, 10). Vygotsky’s Approach gives the learners a chance to learn and understand the meaning of the contents and carry more research using the available literature materials. The learner’s cognitive ability enables them to think and get more meaning of the taught ideas and facts on the topic of study (Smith, Dockret, & Tomlinson 1997, 23). In one of our practical lessons, I gave the learners something to wash to test their responsibility level. Some learners did a very good job, as they were able to wash some garments and hang them in the sun to dry. Those learners who hand difficulties in doing it got assistance from their colleagues by observing them as they washed. Even if the learners are young, they can manage to make some sensible contributions to what they learn with the teacher and come up with some good ideas. Responsible young minds grow into very responsible citizens, who can debate and give reliable contributions to the economy.

Learning motivation to the young learners

The Approach by Vygotsky increases the learner’s motivation and raises their confidence by giving them a chance to participate actively in problem-solving activities. Through the discussions, experiments, and outdoor activities the learners discover and tackle challenging tasks. Once they come up with the correct answers and data as the teacher requires, they acquiring inner inspiration and encouragement to do more. The learners possess a very strong urge to go on learning and get more knowledge of a phenomenon known as “Zone Proximal Development (Shayer 2003, 465). In other approaches, where the teacher is the sole source of information to the learners, motivation to achieve more knowledge is limited. Vygotsky said,” Learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and  cooperation with his peers.”(Vygotsky 1934, 11). The cooperation of the learners enables them to participate in class experiments and practical sessions. However, some learners may find it boring to keep on learning new things every time, which is quite challenging for the teacher and the parents.

Creation of learner tutors

In the cognitive and practical approach, the teachers do not teach the learners but only facilitate the process (Piaget 196, 12). The function of the facilitator is only to guide the year two learners to enable them to embark on the learning process and assist them to come up with conclusive answers. For this learning approach, the learning environment should ensure that there is room for the learners to express their cognitive thoughts. The learners here use their simple creativity and overcome any challenges by providing sensible answers to the questions. In one of my lessons, I gave the learners some group work activity to discuss and present to the class. Each of the groups was to select a presenter to explain their response to the other learners on the board. The learners presented their work with confidence, which was very encouraging. The method is beneficial to the learners to help build their communication skills and self-confidence.  Learners with a slow understanding capability may limit the effectiveness of the method.

Improves the teacher-learner relationship in doing a task

The practical activities allow the freedom of expression of the learners since the teacher acts as a guide and not an instructor (Piaget 1962, 6). The learners and the teacher engage actively in carrying out an activity outside the classroom. This environment enables the learners to be very creative and inquisitive by asking for guidance in areas that appear challenging. The teacher is there to offer guidance and make any corrections where the learners disagree. The task may be challenging but through some research using the necessary literature materials in the school, the learners can handle most of the experiments. Once the learners perform the task and get it right, they are delighted and more encouraged to do more. There is a culture of independence and self-confidence on the side of the learners, who feel great whenever they complete a task.  To facilitate the achievement of this approach, several factors such as cooperation and the ability to solve problems are important. The cognitive ability is very healthy for the physical and the psychological development of the learners and the teachers (Pollard 2002, 9).

Facilitate collaboration among the learners

For the cognitive and the practical and have different cognitive abilities (Piaget 1962, 5). There is the necessity of the learners to come together and work as one team incorporating the various cultural and social values in their class activity. Vygotsky said, “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” (Vygotsky 1994, 86). According to Vygotsky, the adults play a great role in shaping the lives of the young learners both outside and inside the classroom.

There is a possibility of extending the learner’s physical maturity, such that the learner learns faster than he/she develops. Collaboration in practical activities facilitates unity and respect among the learners with different cognitive capabilities.

The approach engages and challenges the learner

Using the cognitive and the practical approach enables the teacher to assign some tasks that are beyond the level of the learners to encourage them to do more research and engage their minds. Giving learner’s work that is beyond their level ensures that they do more research and come up with credible answers for the tasks. For instance, in the case of the year two learners, the teacher can assign a year three task, allow the learners to reason out, do research, and get the answers. The teacher can offer guidelines to the pupils in areas where they face challenges. The use of the Vygotsky’s approach can allow the learners to do some task that are beyond their current year to enhance their thinking, practical, and research skills. In one of my practical lessons, I gave my learners a puzzle to test their mental capability of resolving some issues. In the riddle puzzle, there was a soldier who operated a certain bridge, and never allowed anyone to cross it. The solder used to sleep for one minute and wake up and to cross the bridge; one would use three minutes. What would someone do to cross the bridge in the presence of the soldier?
The riddle created a lot of debate and discussion among the learners as they tried to give their best answer, which broadened their cognitive and mental capability. The activity also made the class very interesting, and the effectiveness of the approach was a reality to the learners and the teacher.

Limitations to the approach

Although the approach has several benefits to the learners, there are a few limitations regarding the methodology and the criteria of teaching especially to learners in their earlier education stages (Daniels 2001, 9). The approach is challenging and not very suitable where learning materials and resources are scarce since practical activities require equipment and costly materials. The method requires the learners to use their cognitive ability, enough time, and literature materials to enable them get the relevant information discussion. The challenges will hinder the effectiveness of the method disadvantaging the learners, as their development may be lower than the learning capability. The theory has more benefit than the limitations and good for adoption in teaching the young learners, which will lead to more innovations.


From the highlights on the learning in theory and practice, it is an important idea to incorporate learning through practical approaches in the earlier stages of learning to enable the learners to be self-reliant.  The Vygotsky’s theory of cognition is a relevance approach to teaching learners especially in their earlier stages. In this paper, the learners are the year two pupils, in which the paper explores the importance of the approach as the teaching method (Daniels 1994, 52). The main importance of the approach is easier ways of solving mathematics, development in technology through innovation and connects the learners’ language and their thoughts. The approach also allows the learners to learn from the older folks, improves their motivation, enhances collaboration, and challenges the learner to do more research work.  However, there are a few challenges to the use of the approach, such as the limited time for research and difficulties in some learners who may require extra attention from the teacher. More research on the best learning approach for various categories of learners, who may not understand in group discussions and interactive learning, is necessary.


Daniels, H., 1996. An introduction to Vygotsky. London: Routledge.

Daniels, H., 1994. Charting the Agenda: Education Activity after Vygotsky. Eds.London: Loutlege.

Daniels, H., 2001. Vygotsky and Pedagogy. London: Taylor and Francis.

Daniels, H., colle, m., & wertsch, J., 2007. The Cambridge Champion to Vygotsky. NewYork Cambridge University press.

Fox, S., 1997. Situated learning theory versus traditional cognitive learning theory: Why management education should not ignore management learning. Systems Practice, 10 (6), 727-747.

Kozulin, A., 1993. Vygotsky for Historians, Vygotsky for Educators. PsycCRITIQUES, 38 (8).

Moll, L., 1994. Vygotsky and education. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Piaget, J., 1962. Comments on Vygotsky’s critical remarks concerning The language and thought of the child, and Judgment and reasoning in the child. [Cambridge, Mass.]: M.I.T. Press.

Pollard, A., 2002. Reading for reflective teachings.eds. London: Continuum.

Shayer, M., 2003. Not just Piaget; not just Vygotsky, and certainly not Vygotsky as alternative to Piaget. Learning and Instruction, 13 (5), 465-485.

Sternlicht, M., 1994. Back to the Future: Vygotsky Lives. PsycCRITIQUES, 39 (10).

Smith, L., Dockrel, J., & Tomlinson, P., 1997. Piaget, Vygotsky and eyond. Central Issues in Developmental and psychology Education. Eds. London: Taylor and Francis.

Young, R., & Astarita, A., 2013. Practice Theory in Language Learning. Language Learning, 63, 171-189.

Veer, R., 2007. Lev Vygotsky. London: Continuum.

Vygotskiĭ, L., Veer, R., & Valsiner, J., 1994. The Vygotsky reader. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Vygotsky, L., 1934. Thought and Language. Boston: MIT Press.



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