Sociocultural Theory (A Comprehensive Guide)

In the mid twentieth century, a Russian Psychologist named Lev Vygotsky, proposed Sociocultural theory.

It is also known as the Sociocultural Theory of Cognitive Development. In this article the Sociocultural theory has been briefly discussed. 

Origin of Sociocultural Theory

In 1896 Lev Vygotsky was born in Russia. He completed his education from Moscow University in 1917 and began his profession as a Psychologist.

He taught Psychology for a long time. Vygotsky conflicted with the main researchers of his time by proposing that psychology must not disregard the importance of consciousness.

Most researchers at the time couldn’t help contradicting his thoughts. Nonetheless, he was yet extended to a teaching opportunity.

There he dealt with his new thoughts of psychological research.

Sociocultural theory focuses on the relation between the developing individuals and their social environment.

Sociocultural theory additionally proposes that the learning of an individual is actually a social learning process.

This theory states that when children socially interact with other people, this interaction helps in developing their cognitive development, especially of those children who are more active and clever.

It means that social development occurs before cognitive development and social learning plays a great role in the development of cognition.  

Vygotsky believed that the parents, teachers, friends, culture and the surrounding social environment play a major role in cognitive development of individuals.

He also postulated that cognitive development is different among various cultures. For example individuals in Asian culture are different from the individuals in American culture. 

Each capacity in the children’s social development shows up twice: first, on the social level and later, on the individual level; first between individuals (inter-psychological) and afterward inside the kid (intra-psychological).

It is because of working with people on different types of tasks that a student embraces culturally shared practices and related impacts and gains helpful procedures and information. 

Concepts of Socio-Cultural Theory

Sociocultural theory consists of three main concepts of learning process

  1. Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

According to Vygotsky children can independently complete a task when they are in the Zone of Proximal Development but they also need some help from others to perform the task successfully.

The main concept is that the social interactions or influences play an important role in the cognitive development of children.

When children are guided or instructed on performing a specific task, they store this information in their mind, use it while performing the task and gradually they learn to perform the task independently. 

For example, learning how to brush teeth, a child needs guidance from others.

His mother instructs or shows him/her how to hold the toothbrush in hand and clean the teeth.

He/She stores this new information in his/her mind. With the help of mother, a child learns how to clean the teeth through brush.

With more practice the child gradually becomes able to brush the teeth independently.

So in this case, a child is in the Zone of Proximal Development for learning to brush the teeth. 

The Zone of Proximal Development is mostly utilized for two kinds of cognitive functioning exploration.

One explanation is that to choose the skills required for learning at a certain age. The next step is to make sense of where the child is right now, intellectually. 

  1. More Knowledgeable Other (MKO)

Vygotsky proposed that the children learn a specific task especially from the one who is more skilled or expert in that task.

These skilled or expert people are named as the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO).

They can be parents, siblings, relatives, teachers, friends or peers etc. In the example of a child learning to brush the teeth, his/her mother not only holds the brush in hand but also verbally instructs the child how to clean the teeth.

From the perspective of a child, his/her mother is a More Knowledgeable Other.

  1. Scaffolding

This concept almost resembles the concept of Zone of Proximal Development.

The Scaffolding concept is defined as the short-term support or help given to a child by a More Knowledgeable Other.

Gradually this support makes the child able to do a task autonomously. Scaffolding involves changing the quality and amount of help given to a child during the learning process. 

The MKO (for example, mother in this case) modifies the quality or quantity of instruction according to the performance of the child. For a new task, the More Knowledgeable Other uses nonstop guidance.

When the child becomes more familiar with the task and gets more experience in it, then the More Knowledgeable Other gives less direction. 

In the case of a child figuring out how to clean the teeth with the help of tooth brush, his/her mother (MKO) may start by holding the child’s hand and guiding him/her out in cleaning the teeth during the entire time.

As the child acquires understanding, his/her mother might discontinuous her hold.

In the end the child’s mother only holds the child’s hand when she wants to correct his/her direction.

At the point when the child becomes expert in cleaning the teeth his/her mother would not hold his/her hand any longer.

It means that the scaffolding has been detached. 

Vygotsky proposed that societies are really framed using instruments, tools and images and this main difference separates humans from animals.

Intelligence is gained when an individual uses the tools that are being given in his culture or society.

At the point when the tools of a culture develop and rise, the individual’s capacity to develop as a mature adult and their knowledge get increased.

Thus, as indicated by Sociocultural Theory, it’s significant for teachers to comprehend the human brain from a historical perspective just as a social one. 

As indicated by Sociocultural Theory, language is an immediate consequence of the images and tools that develop inside a culture.

An individual can learn language through an assortment of get-togethers, situations, and procedures, which all result in the obtaining of language.

This part of the Sociocultural Theory depends on the possibility that individuals experience three phases of language development.

In the first place, they should take part in the social situation, which is called Social Speech and starts at 2 years old.

Next, they will find out about Private Speech, which happens when individuals communicate their thoughts loudly so anyone might hear and start at 3 years old.

The latter is Inner Speech, which appears as thoughts that stay inside our brains and legitimately influence our conduct or cognitions and starts at 7 years old.

Themes in Sociocultural Theory

There are mainly four themes have been recognized in Sociocultural theory:

  1. Social interaction influence cognitive functioning

Vygotsky accepted that the social environment influences development.

Relationship with others profoundly affects how children function.

Children development is affected by Caregivers, kin, more distant family individuals, teachers, and companions. 

  1. Cultural tools and language shape the psychological development

Specialized tools are coordinated outward; they change an outside circumstance where mental tools are coordinated internally; they change the psyche and the way toward deduction.

Mental Functioning is the capacity to accomplish their objectives inside themselves and the outside condition. Incorporates a person’s conduct, feeling, social abilities, and in general wellbeing.

Specialized Tools include instruments for following up on the earth, i.e., vehicles etc.

Mental Tools include instruments that impact the manner in which we sort out and recall data. For example, Language, Symbols, Patterns  

  1. Cultural norms influence learning

Social norms or values are what are viewed as ordinary or normal inside a culture/nation/and so on. Examples include: Accessibility of knowledge, assumptions regarding work, study or play, sharing of rituals etc.

  1. Sociocultural learning requires cognitive skills

Cognitive skills are aptitudes we have to do any task from easy to generally complex.

They have more to do with the components of how we learn, recollect, solve problems, and focus as opposed to with any real information. 

Applications of Sociocultural Theory in Everyday life

Sociocultural theory has picked up fame recently, especially in the education field. A few instances of how this theory can be applied in everyday life are as below

Understanding the degrees of the zone of proximal development can be useful for a teacher.

Students may have need of guidance from a more knowledgeable other, however in the long run, their zone of proximal development will extend. Teachers can design their guidance and practices.

The teachers may arrange the class into bunches where less bright children are grouped with children who have a higher ability level.

Teachers can likewise use the idea of scaffolding, where the teacher gives prompts to move the student dynamically forward toward an objective.

Parents can use this theory by giving their children a lot of chances for playing activities.

Through imaginary play, children have the option to additionally extend their mental capacities, information, abstract thinking etc.


The main concept of Sociocultural theory is that social interaction or learning is an important component in cognitive development.

The Sociocultural theory of development additionally pointed out the changeability of social or cultural factors, expressing that the development of a child from a certain culture or subculture, might be entirely different from a child who is from a different culture. 

Sociocultural theory has a few broadly perceived strengths. To begin with, it underlines the more extensive cultural, social, and historical setting of any human movement.

It doesn’t see people as disconnected entities; rather, it gives a more extravagant point of view, concentrating on the limit among self as well as other people.

It depicts the dynamic of individual learning information and abilities from the society and afterward thus influencing their development Second, sociocultural theory is limited to individual and cross cultural differences. 

FAQs about Socio-cultural Theory

What is an example of Sociocultural Theory?

Individuals build up their own thinking by perusing, communicating, utilizing different instruments, and so forth.

Along these lines, an individual’s intellectual level and someone else’s can be extraordinary and different.

One youngster can be interested, investigating, anxious to learn and persevering, while another kid probably won’t be

What is Sociocultural Theory in Education?

Sociocultural theory of social learning clarifies that learning happens during social interaction between people.

This theory has the most important implications in the field of education.

It postulates that learning happens first through social communication and then through individuals’ social practices.

Why is Sociocultural theory important?

The primary notion of this theory is that the manners in which individuals communicate with other people and their culture where they live influence their attitudes, behaviors, beliefs etc.

Vygotsky accepted that parents, siblings, teachers, friends and society all have a significant part in framing higher order functioning.

What are social and cultural factors?

Sociocultural variables are the bigger scope factors inside societies, cultures and social orders that influence the cognitive beliefs, emotions and attitudes.

The social and cultural variables include: stereotypes, prejudices, gender discrimination, rituals, religions, cross cultural dissimilarity, parenting practices etc.