Vygotsky Online

Vygotsky and Second Language Learning

David Jackson

In a social constructivist (Vygotsky) international online learning environment, a common social-cultural context needs to be created where language use is appropriately focussed and modulated to meet different capabilities. Whereas in discussions and reading and writing cohort participation can absorb a range of capabilities within individually identified zones of proximal development (Vygotsky), grammar and genre intermediation needs to target those specific students that demonstrate a need for additional review, practice or individual coaching. This is where the idea of parallel development makes sense, allowing for the supplemental online or F2F teacher-directed teaching of content and/or process in support of identified need.

To meet the requirement for individualised support and practice online, a bank of digitised and indexed content should be made available or created. Scanned and digitised content can be taken from, for example, old texts where copyright has expired, and that can serve in the creation of such indexed resources. Old texts tend to be designed much more linear that modern texts and lend themselves particularly well to creating digitised content.

To meet the requirement of an authentic and motivating social context suitable for social constructivist learning, we suggest cohort recreational literature study or professional literature study. Their simulated socio-historical contexts are seen to be ideally suited for second language students with the potential for multiple associated cross-cohort activities that will, in the process, highlight specific language issues that need individual attention, easily drawn from our digitized resources previously mentioned. It is in the work of these socially interactive activities that cognitive growth is generated, mediated, modulated and solidified for long-term memory access in accordance with social constructivist pedagogical principles.

In fact, Suzanne Miller (2003) in an article named How Literature Discussion Shapes Thinking suggests that the opportunity for open-forum cohort discussions exists particularly where multiple perspectives on the text are invited, with opportunities available to examine individual interpretations in conversation with others. With this socio-cultural approach in mind, thinking and mediation based on disequilibrium and equilibration originates in such collaborative dialogues, which are subsequently modulated and internalized as ‘inner speech‘.

Such online open-forums in online social constructivist literature study in ESL/EFL settings, need to be organized so that the curriculum allows students within a cohort to collaborate, interact, and raise questions of both F2F and online classmates and the teacher. Crouse and Davey (1989).  According to Gould (2005) constructivist frameworks challenge teachers to create innovative environments in which they and their students are encouraged to think and explore. Learners must play an active role in selecting and defining the activities which must be both challenging and intrinsically motivating. There must be appropriate teacher support as learners build concepts, values, schemata, and problem solving abilities. Teaching this way is not easy. It requires a considerable degree of flexibility and a strategic allocation of workflow and resources within student cohorts, such as student-to-student mentoring and group work to take the focus off the teacher, but guided to ensure outcomes.


  1. Hey David,

    As I move through the ETEC 500 and ETEC 510 courses, I am struck by how important the smaller groups are in our design proposal. For the sake of curiousity, I did a word count for the week 7 posts and came up with 28, 400 words. More than I can keep up with, really, so it kills the “back and forth” that we might have otherwise.

    Given that individuals have a lot to offer and build together, it makes sense to offer them a place to have a more in-depth discussion and then sharing with the other “pods”.

    I also have, in my local F2F environment, and example in which one group needs considerable mediation with their work. It is just a bit too far out of reach for them, and they are floundering. In allowing them to form their own groups, this happened socially. Eventually, I assigned a stronger member of another team who want to work on leadership skills to help steer the groups’ efforts. It helped a lot. It made me wonder if there is an ideal group size.

    1. Hi Mike,

      I am just speculating on what seems to make sense to me, but I would think five to six max with the potential for an additional mentor. The whole idea being one of in depth discussion and mutual support. It may be advisable to set some of the operational parameters to encourage individuals to take ownership of their individual group responsibilities so that individuals contribute original work, although it should be permissible to depend on the oversight and suggestions of their team members. It could defeat our purpose if individuals chose to go along for a free ride by mostly depending on the contribution of others.

    2. You may want to initiate your group into our system by at first getting them onto our social BuddyPress component where they can just socialise online although with the project in mind, but with no influence on their mark for participation.

      As they become familiar with the workflow typical of the site you could begin to ask them for more formal contributions on the bbPress forum.

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