Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist famous for his theories of child development, particularly his theory of cognitive development. He proposed a stage theory of development, which linked the interaction between cognitive and biological development in children. Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who was most famous for his theory of sociocultural development and believed that development occurs primarily through interaction with one’s culture. Both theorists offered major contributions to the areas of developmental psychology as it applies to education.

Step 1

Compare Piaget and Vygotsky’s basic tenets of cognitive development. Explain that Piaget saw cognitive development from a biological perspective and believed that intelligence stems from a human ability to adapt and organize. Clarify that Piaget believed children organize ideas into groups or “schemes,” through which they either assimilate new information or accommodate information that does not fit with existing schemes. Contrast this with Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development in which children transform and internalize information about the world via language. For Vygotsky, social interaction is the major impetus for development. When a child hears language, she imitates it until it becomes internalized and is represented in the mind as internal speech.

Step 2

Look at the two theorists' views of the progression of development. Explain that Piaget believed that development precedes learning. That is, a child starts from a self-centered position and develops on his own accord, moving from himself into the social world as he develops. Compare this with Vygotsky, who believed that development begins with socialization and language acquisition, which lead to developmental learning.

Step 3

Look at the major contributions of each theorist. Notice that Piaget used a stage model of development to show the connection between a child’s biological and cognitive development. Understand that this model shows Piaget’s core belief that brain growth is related to chronological development, underscoring the connection with biology. Contrast this with Vygotsky’s belief that language and culture are integral to development. Explain that Vygotsky proposed that children construct their knowledge out of social interactions, and that learning promotes development. For Vygotsky, language is the major facilitator of social learning and development.