Jean Piaget and Vygotsky are two of the great figures in the study of evolutionary psychology and development. Their theories have influenced many authors, from the old to the most contemporary. They must be credited with increasing our understanding, from a broad perspective, of how the children develop.
Historically, the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky have been put in opposite sides. But, the question needs to be asked, are they really so? Let us have a review to check to see the differences and the similarities between the theories of these two authors.
We have to examine all the data that we have related to two of them, and it will help us to create an integrated framework and will give us a fuller vision of the development of the human beings.
The first thing is to understand that Piaget and Vygotsky developed their theories completely independent of each other. Both come from different times and from different geolocations. Still, the interesting thing is to see how they came up with similar ideas and notions related to the development process.
The next thing to discuss are the key points covered in the theories of the each of them. So that we are able to find the similarities and how they are linked to each other or differ from each other.
GENERAL CONCEPTION OF DEVELOPMENT FOR VYGOTSKY AND PIAGET
It is critical to examine them to be able to compare and contrast the ways in which each of the authors have dealt with the challenge to explain the development in general. In the first observation, it is interesting to contemplate that Piaget and Vygotsky move away from the innate and empiricist proposals when explaining the acquisitions of knowledge. Both pose their theory from a constructivist paradigm.
It is curious to note that the two start from the same general conception, based on constructivism and interactionism. For them, the changes produced in development are mainly qualitative, with complex determinants of an active agent acting on their midst to create a particular version of their reality.
Now, if we begin to deepen, immediately the difference between both authors become clear. In the first place, they appeal to different factors the main source of knowledge. For Piaget, the important thing was individual action. On the contrary, for Vygotsky, the interaction with the social environment was imperative.
Piaget speaks of a vital and universal development. Therefore, the development is the result of internal reorganisations of the individual, based on their objective manipulations, without the need for help from an external source. While for Vygotsky, development was contingent and contextualised. It had to do with the continuous internalisation of the cognitive-cultural means and resources acquired through interaction with the social context.
THE DISTINCT BETWEEN NATURAL DEVELOPMENT AND CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT
An essential aspect is that Lev Vygotsky makes a distinction between natural development and cultural development. This contrast is not contemplated or even rejected from Piaget’s theory. This distinction between Piaget and Vygotsky shows the marked differences in their thoughts on the importance of culture.
The dichotomy formed by Vygotsky shows us the dualistic nature of the approach to this theory. It is based on the opposing concepts such as biological growth (maturation) vs cultural development (learning). On the contrary, Piaget’s perspective is monistic, with the subject as the unifying reference to this contrast.
UNIT OF ANALYSIS AND DIRECTION OF DEVELOPMENT
It may seem, through the above, that Piaget ignored the social aspects of development, but this is not the case. What happens is that he interprets or assumes the social factor in a very different way from Vygotsky. For Piaget, the unit of analysis is the individual and the social factor would only be a variable that influences the processes of it.
In contrast to Vygotsky, the unit of analysis is the socio-cultural environment where the individual is immersed. For him, the individual aspects would be the variables that influence within the social context.
Now, who is correct? What is the unit and what are the external variables that make an impact? The first question, however, is meaningless. Actually, the unit of analysis is the reference point, and naturally, it does not have a fixed position. It is like seeing a geometric figure from different angles. A cylinder from one side may look like a square and from another a circle, but it is still a cylinder.
But perhaps the greatest and the uppermost difference is reflected in the direction of the development proposed by each of the authors. For Piaget, development progress in the sense of greater decentralisation and socialisation; that is; the individual starts from internalism to social conception of reality.
For Vygotsky, it is the opposite process: knowledge is outside the individual in a social way, This, through processes of internalisation, transforms the sociocultural into something individual.