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Sociocultural Learning Theory


November 11, 2021


Gabrielle Rivera


Sociocultural Learning Theory

The acquisition of knowledge is an individual undertaking, but the sociocultural learning theory argues that social interaction is vital in learning. It’s not surprising given the fact that most of the knowledge and skills we now have were attained with the help of a support system until such time that we have mastered them on our own.

What is sociocultural learning theory?

Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural learning theory, also called as social learning theory, is widely known in the world of socioculturalism and educational psychology. This sociocultural theory of development describes learning as a social process and asserts that our social environment greatly influences our cognitive learning and development, and mental processes. It’s closely related to Jerome Bruner’s social constructivism theory or constructivist teaching, which states that people develop their learning by doing.

Our interactions with society, together with their contributions, provide a temporary scaffold until we are able to internalize our experiences and develop higher levels of thinking. We are then able to form our own consciousness on an individual level, making us both a byproduct and architect of society. This is supported by sociocultural theorists for constructivist theory, a learning theory that states that people construct their own knowledge from real-world experiences, instead of passively taking information.

Alongside this theory of cognitive development, the conception of Vygotsky sociocultural theory is also grounded in the belief that social interaction is a key factor in intellectual development. This pedagogy has been a common and recurring theme all through our lives as we learn first from our family at home, our teachers in school, and eventually, from our peers within and outside our social circles.

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Principles of sociocultural learning theory

Language and Symbols

According to Lev Vygotsky's sociocultural theory, language plays a central part and is one of the most important tools in social development learning. It is through words and symbols communicated during social interactions that first form theoretical concepts and meanings. While a language’s primary use is for communication, it elevates into what he calls “inner speech” or an internal monologue once internalization happens. This is when an individual adopts external influences and creates his/her own sense of self through the acquired values and beliefs. This guides us in making decisions and controlling our behavior before taking any action.

Principles of sociocultural learning theory - Language and Symbols


Not everyone learns the same way and at the same pace, and a learner’s experience can vary from another. This is due to the diversity in culture, resources, and physical circumstances. In Vygotsky's social learning theory, these are taken into account, which results in differing developmental routes. This is connected to Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, which claims that a child’s intelligence changes and evolves as they mature. It emphasizes that if a learner does not get the necessary social environment to develop, cognition does not develop as well. However, it’s also based on an individual’s participation in culturally organized activities. When learners take part in societal activities and draw from these experiences, they acquire new knowledge and initiatives to help navigate the world around them.

Principles of sociocultural learning theory - culture

Zone of Proximal Development

In developmental-psychology, the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD, is defined as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). Simply put, these are tasks that individuals can carry out with the help of someone more experienced, but not yet by themselves. This means that an individual can almost do these tasks unaided and are close to perfecting them.

Principles of sociocultural learning theory - Zone of Proximal Development

This is where the crucial role of a skilled member, or the “more knowledgeable other”, comes into play as they provide the necessary guidance until one is able to accomplish a task independently. Unlike other theories of learning, the focus towards achieving this goal is based on the learning process and one’s current skill level rather than the end product itself.

Practical Applications for Sociocultural Learning

Collaborative learning

Peer-to-peer learning or learning in groups prompts each individual to bring varying perspectives to the table. Collaborative learning is a great opportunity for cross-cultural learning and helps learners gain new skills that aren’t part of their current skillset. This setting also fosters positive interdependence, as more adept learners can lend a helping hand and advance other learners’ ZPD. This sociocultural theory and practice can come in the form of group projects, activities, and discussions as long as a singular goal has to be achieved.

Practical Applications for Sociocultural Learning - Collaborative learning

Online collaborative spaces, such as SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s in-lesson Discussions, are forum-style features where learners can easily share knowledge, insights, and real-time feedback. They can engage with peers through text, image, and video formats to enrich their interactions and bring more context to the discussion. It automatically sends a push notification whenever there’s a new comment on their post so your team doesn’t have to worry about missing out and so that they can consistently engage with learning content.

Flipped Learning Environment

The flipped classroom is another application of the sociocultural learning theory and social learning wherein learners are provided with the material ahead of time before it’s discussed in the training proper. It gives learners more time to digest information, resulting in more engagement and exchange of ideas since learners already have an understanding of the topic at hand. Instead of using classroom time for lectures, learners can take part in activities and discussions through guided participation as facilitated by their instructor.

Information is best absorbed when no cognitive overload occurs. A microlearning design model is perfect to use as it makes learning more effective, focusing only on the key elements of a certain topic. SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s free (up to 10 users) microlearning courseware is just what you need to help you provide engaging and interactive content that learners will love. Courses can be easily customized and edited, thanks to its easy-to-use authoring tool and template library. Discover a comprehensive library of beautiful, world-class courseware brought to you by industry partners and community thought leaders spanning a wide range of topics. Whatever industry you’re in, SC Training (formerly EdApp) has got you covered.

Game-based learning

The use of gamification elements in training helps gain a learner’s interest in the task at hand and increases engagement. It allows learners to explore beyond reality and develop the growth of abstract and symbolic thinking. Applying the lens of sociocultural learning theory in game-based learning means that you have to find that sweet spot where learning still poses a challenge while not being too difficult or too easy at the same time. In other words, it has to be within a player’s zone of proximal development to be effective.

Practical Applications for Sociocultural Learning - Game-based learning

Learning doesn’t have to be difficult or boring. SC Training (formerly EdApp) uses gaming elements like drag-and-drop, sequencing, matching, and many more to make the learning experience interactive and engaging for your learners. Adding gamification elements to your lessons is as easy as choosing a game template and populating it with your content.


Gabrielle Rivera

Gabrielle is an eLearning content writer for SC Training (formerly EdApp), a microlearning solution designed for today's digital habits. She creates content about cutting-edge learning technologies and resources to help companies deliver great training experiences. When not absorbed in writing, she spends her time playing video games and reading books.

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