Lev Vygotsky was one of the pioneers of psychology and contributed much to the field. His research was largely focused on cognitive development, and his theory is considered one of the most important theories of cognitive development. Essentially he believed that a child’s thinking is affected by their knowledge of the social community and that language is the most important tool for gaining this social knowledge. In other words, children can learn social knowledge through others via language. While he was often criticized for his emphasis on language and its role in thinking, there are many who still stand by his theory of cognitive development.
Vygotsky defined intelligence as “the capacity to learn from instruction“, meaning that a teacher or “More Knowledgeable Other” must also be present. A More Knowledgeable Other, or MKO can be a parent, teacher, adult, professional, or even a child or friend with knowledge that the learning child does not yet possess. Another key feature of Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development is something called the zone of proximal development, or ZPD. There are two levels to this. The first is the present level of development, or what the child is already capable of doing without help from others. The second level is the potential level of development, or what the child could be helpful of with the assistance of MKOs. Vygotsky called the gap between these levels the zone of proximal development. He felt that if a child obtained helped from others who were more knowledgeable, he or she could potentially gain the knowledge that they held, provided such knowledge was appropriate to the child’s level of comprehension.