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Piaget vs Vygotsky

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Piaget vs Vygotsky

How were we able to think before we learnt how to speak? What comes first? Does thought precede the development of language, or is it the ability to speak that makes us able to think? Different perspectives attribute different functions to language in cognitive development.

In Piaget's theory, language doesn't play a central role; rather, it passively reflects the child's current level of development which they learn through exploration and discovery. According to Vygotsky, language is one of the central cultural tools, which can be used for communication and transmission of knowledge and later becomes an internalised to help children reason on their own.

Piaget vs Vygotsky, illustration of a boy thinking of shapes, StudySmarterBoth Piaget and Vygotsky explored cognitive development, flaticon.com

Piaget and Vygotsky comparison

The theories of Piaget and Vygotsky both have different perspectives on how language relates to thought and cognition. Let's start by looking at how language develops through the lens of Piaget's theory of cognitive development.

Piaget's Theory: Language depends on thought

Piaget argued that the development of schemas precedes language development. Children first need to understand what a concept means before using words to communicate it to others.

Schemas refer to mental frameworks about the world that guide our behaviour and expectations. For example, a child might develop a schema that all cats are soft and fluffy after seeing a cat for the first time. Another schema children may develop is that by mixing two colours of paint, they can get a new colour.

Piaget identified four stages of cognitive development, which reflect the universal developmental trajectory for all children, independent of culture or gender.

According to Piaget, children's linguistic abilities will be limited to their current stage of cognitive development; while children can be taught vocabulary beyond their understanding, they will not be able to use it meaningfully until reaching that understanding.

Stage of developmentAgeLanguage development
Sensorimotor stage - children explore the world through their senses and motor movements.0-2 yearsChildren can imitate sounds and vocalise their demands. Exploration aids understanding of object permanence.
Preoperational stage - children begin to think symbolically, form ideas and represent images mentally. Children may not be able to reason logically and see beyond their egocentric perspective. They struggle with conservation and show irreversibility and centration. 2-7 yearsChildren begin to use private speech; they use syntax and grammar but still lack the ability to communicate and take the perspective of the other person in the conversation.
Concrete operational stage - children start to recognise the perspectives of others but may still struggle with some logical thought. They understand conservation and do not show egocentrism, irreversibility, and centration.7-11 yearsChildren start to adopt the perspectives of others in conversations. The conversations they engage in are limited to discussing concrete things. Children recognise how events are placed in time and space.
Formal operational stage - children can reason hypothetically and logically, think abstractly and systematically solve problems.12+ yearsChildren can discuss abstract ideas and see different perspectives.

In Piaget's theory, language is clearly preceded by thought. Children cannot effectively express what they don't yet understand. Language is also not central to learning; children develop mainly through their interactions with the environment and independent discovery.

Vygotsky's Theory: Language as a cultural tool

Vygotsky argued that children's development results from interactions with the social and cultural environment. Children develop because of the support they receive from More Knowledgeable Others (MKOs) in their life who guide their learning. In this process, language has a central function in helping children go beyond their current skill level and move to their Zone of Proximal Development.

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) refers to a range of possible abilities which the child is currently unable to reach on their own but can achieve with the support of another person.

Language is the cultural tool through which knowledge can be transmitted from the more knowledgeable person to a child. The verbal guidance and instructions from the MKO are a key part of the scaffolding that allows children to progress in their development.

Scaffolding is the support and guidance that a More Knowledgeable Other gives to the child to help them develop abilities in their Zone of Proximal Development. They provide a framework.

Roazzi and Bryant (1998) found that when paired with a more advanced peer, 4 and 5-year-olds could perform better on a logical task they previously performed badly on and were able to maintain better performance 3 weeks later.

Children who were paired with a peer that also performed badly on the task didn't see any improvements. This study supports the idea that support from a More Knowledgeable Other can help children develop abilities within their Zone of Proximal Development.

Another important function of language is its ability to help children self-guide their behaviour and problem solve once they internalise it and develop inner speech.

Vygotsky proposed that private speech is what mediates the development of inner speech. Private speech occurs when children voice their thoughts aloud, but it is not directed toward anyone else. As children develop, private speech gradually disappears and turns into inner speech, which isn't expressed aloud. These two forms of language are known as inner speech and oral speech.

In Vygotsky's theory, language is also, to some extent, preceded by thought but around the age of 3, children's thoughts and language merge. They begin to use language as a tool not only during social interactions but also when thinking independently.

Similarities between Piaget and Vygotsky

Piaget's and Vygotsky's theories aren't necessarily opposites. While they emphasise different influences on development, they both acknowledge the cognitive limits of a child and support similar educational interventions.

Similarities between Piaget and Vygotsky: Cognitive limits

Both theories also recognise the cognitive limits of children. Piaget proposed the concept of readiness; children should not be forced to memorise concepts which are beyond their cognitive reach, considering the stage they are at. Vygotsky's concept of the Zone of Proximal Development also considers a child's limitations as the zone is finite, and guidance can only help to extend children's abilities to a certain extent.

Similarities between Piaget and Vygotsky: Child-centred approaches

A child-centred approach to learning is supported by both psychologists. According to Piaget, child-centred learning should focus on matching the child with tasks at an appropriate difficulty level. Tasks should challenge children's schemas while considering their readiness so they can expand their abilities through experience.

Vygotsky's view of child-centred learning focuses on the collaboration with a tutor and the ability of a tutor to provide a child with appropriate scaffolding.

Piaget vs Vygotsky, an illustration of two children playing together with toy cars, StudySmarterVygotsky viewed learning as a collaborative process with a MKO, freepik.com

Similarities between Piaget and Vygotsky: Peer learning

Both theories also see peer learning as beneficial. According to Piaget, interaction with peers is important for development because the knowledge of peers can challenge the existing schemas of children. A similar idea was put forward by Vygotsky, who argued that more advanced peers could provide children with guidance to help them reach new abilities in their ZPD.

Piaget and Vygotsky constructivism

Both the theory of Piaget and Vygotsky can be considered constructivist. Constructivism is the view that knowledge and meaning are created rather than existing objectively. According to Piaget's theory of cognitive development, knowledge in the form of schemas is constructed independently by the learner through the means of discovery. They are then expanded on through assimilation and accommodation.

While Vygotsky argues that knowledge is socially constructed through social interactions within the culture.

Difference between Piaget and Vygotsky

Some of the notable differences between the theories include their perspectives on language development, private speech and cultural influences.

Difference between Piaget and Vygotsky: The role of language

Piaget's theory puts a greater emphasis on thoughts and schemas in development than on language. Piaget proposes that language is limited to the child's stage of development and reflects rather than influences schemas.

Vygotsky views language as an important tool, in contrast to Piaget's theory, where development occurs through discovering the environment; here, social interaction is central. Language is an important cultural tool, which is first used by the More Knowledgeable Other to support the child and later develops into inner speech, which influences the way children think, allowing them to guide themselves when problem-solving and self-regulate their behaviour. As thought and language merge, language can influence how children understand the world.

Difference between Piaget and Vygotsky: Private speech

Private speech is not considered to be significant for children's development in Piaget's theory. It is thought to reflect the child's egocentrism and lack of ability to take on the perspective of another person until it is replaced by reciprocal social speech.

Vygotsky views private speech as a step in developing verbal thoughts or inner speech. Children start with voicing their thoughts out loud until they can think using language; private speech is therefore considered to be an important developmental step.

Difference between Piaget and Vygotsky: The role of Culture

Piaget's stages of cognitive development were proposed to be universal across genders and cultures. Therefore, Piaget's theory views cognitive development as universal and independent of cultural influences.

In contrast, according to Vygotsky, cognitive development is greatly influenced by culture. Children learn cultural tools like values, language and symbols associated with the culture, which later shape how they understand the world.

How adults interact with children and the amount of scaffolding they provide will also differ across cultures resulting in cross-cultural differences in children's development.

Piaget vs Vygotsky chart

Similarities and differences between the theories can be illustrated using a chart, demonstrating how the two theories can complement each other.

Piaget vs Vygotsky A Venn Diagram showing the differences and similarities between Piaget and Vygotsky StudySmarter

Piaget vs Vygotsky chart, StudySmarter Originals

Piaget vs Vygotsky - Key takeaways

  • Piaget's theory focuses on the importance of schemas, which precede language development. Schemas refer to mental frameworks developed through independent exploration of the environment that guide children's behaviour and expectations.
  • Vygotsky proposed that cognitive development occurrs through social interactions and emphasises the importance of cultural tools, including language. Language is first used for communication and scaffolding to encourage development and later internalised to allow children to self-guide their behaviour and cognition.
  • Both theories are constructivist, acknowledge children's cognitive limits and support child-centred approaches and peer learning in education.
  • Piaget argued that cognitive development occurs in four distinct and universal stages. Vygotsky rejected the idea of universal stages and posited that culture deeply guides and influences cognitive development.
  • While Piaget doesn't attribute importance to language and private speech in cognitive development, Vygotsky sees language as central for learning and capable of influencing how children understand the world.

Frequently Asked Questions about Piaget vs Vygotsky

Both theories are constructivist, acknowledge children's cognitive limits and support child-centred approaches as well as peer learning in education.

Vygotsky argued that cognitive development results from interactions with the social and cultural environment. Children develop because of the support they receive from More Knowledgeable Others in their life who guide their learning. In this process, language has a central function in helping children go beyond their current skill level and move to their Zone of Proximal Development.

Vygotsky rejected the idea of universal stages and argued that culture deeply guides and influences cognitive development. While Piaget's theory doesn't attribute importance to language and private speech, Vygotsky sees language as central for learning and capable of influencing how children understand the world.

Piaget and Vygotsky agreed on the idea that knowledge is constructed. They also agreed that some knowledge and abilities would be outside of children's reach depending on their development. They both supported child-centred learning approaches and peer learning.

Piaget emphasised providing children with opportunities for independent learning, while Vygotsky focused on the importance of supporting the children to expand their current level of ability. Both approaches for supporting children's development are important and can be utilised in education.

Final Piaget vs Vygotsky Quiz

Question

According to Piaget...

Show answer

Answer

Thought precedes the development of language

Show question

Question

What are the 4 stages of cognitive development proposed by Piaget?

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Answer

1. Sensorimotor stage

2. Preoperational stage

3. Concrete operational stage

4. Formal operational stage

Show question

Question

What are schemas?

Show answer

Answer

Schemas refer to mental frameworks about the world that guide our behaviour and expectations. 

Show question

Question

How does learning occur according to Piaget?

Show answer

Answer

Learning occurs mainly through interactions with the environment and independent discovery. 

Show question

Question

Anya is at the preoperational stage of cognitive development. How can her linguistic abilities reflect that?

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Answer

At this stage Anya will be using private speech, she may also be able to use syntax and grammar correctly. Anya may struggle with taking the perspective of another person and will focus on talking about herself while having a conversation with someone else.

Show question

Question

What is Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development?

Show answer

Answer

Vygotsky argued that cognitive development is a result of social interactions. Children develop because of the support they receive from More Knowledgeable Others in their life who guide their learning. In this process, language has a central function in helping children go beyond their current skill level and move to their Zone of Proximal Development.

Show question

Question

What does the Zone of Proximal Development refer to?

Show answer

Answer

Zone of Proximal Development refers to a range of possible abilities which the child is currently unable to reach on their own but can achieve with the support of another person.

Show question

Question

According to Vygotsky...

Show answer

Answer

Language influences how we think and reason

Show question

Question

What is the function of inner speech?

Show answer

Answer

Inner speech helps children self-guide their behaviour and problem solve.

Show question

Question

What is private speech?

Show answer

Answer

Private speech occurs when children voice their thoughts out loud but it is not directed toward anyone else. 

Show question

Question

What are the main similarities between Piaget and Vygotsky?


Show answer

Answer

Both theories are constructivist, acknowledge children's cognitive limits and support child-centred approaches as well as peer learning in education.

Show question

Question

How are the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky constructivist?

Show answer

Answer

According to Piaget's theory of cognitive development, knowledge, in the form of schemas, is constructed independently by the learner through the means of discovery. While Vygotsky argues that knowledge is socially constructed through social interactions within the culture. 

Show question

Question

How is Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development different from Piaget's theory?


Show answer

Answer

Vygotsky rejected the idea of universal stages and argued that culture deeply guides and influences cognitive development. 


While Piaget's theory doesn't attribute importance to language and private speech, Vygotsky sees language as central for learning and capable of influencing how children understand the world.

Show question

Question

How can culture influence cognitive development according to Vygotsky?

Show answer

Answer

During development, children learn cultural tools like values, language and symbols associated with the culture, which later shape how they understand the world. 

How adults interact with children and the amount of scaffolding they provide will also differ across cultures resulting in cross-cultural differences in children's development.


Show question

Question

What is the significance of private speech in Vygotsky's theory?

Show answer

Answer

Vygotsky views private speech as a step in the development of verbal thoughts or inner speech. Children start with voicing their thoughts out loud until they are able to think using language, private speech is therefore considered to be an important developmental step.

Show question

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