Digital Media in Education

research in new media learning environments

in: Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bandura

The main point of this article is to propose a new thinking frame about cognitive development and social learning that proposes there are more similarities in Vygotsky’s, Piaget’s, and Bandura’s theories than contradictions.

More Similarities than Contradictions

The authors star by proposing that early categorization of Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bandura theories is based in the need for interpreters to categorize theories. One other reason is the fact that it is difficult to make empirical studies that have all the subtleties of each theory in to account. Therefore, most research done in each tradition explores only some aspects of each theory and most often tries to explore particularly controversial issues rather than some central ideas that are common.

In this article Tudge and Winterhoff expose what they consider to be neglected or unexplored ideas that they believe bring some light to truly understanding the work done by Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bandura. Instead of focusing differences between their theoretical positions as other did (Altman. E., & RogolT. B), the authors propose to start by focusing the similarities among them in order to truly understand what differentiates them.

Altman. E., & RogolT. B. (1987). World views in psychology: Trait. Interactional, organismic., and transactional perspectives. In D. Stokols & I. Altman (Eds.), Handbook of environmental psychology (Vol. I, pp. 7- 40). New York: Wiley.

The similarities between all three authors are listed below. Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bandura:

  • Share the same aim (to understand development);
  • Share some references (predecessors and contemporary authors working in the field);
  • Share the conviction that individuals are cognitively active in the process of development;
  • Take in to account social factors, both at a cultural and historical level (macro factors) and  at the interpersonal level (micro interactions);
  • Believe that maturation plays a critical role in development;
  • Are highly critical of stimulus-response models (eg. behaviorism and mechanistic materialism).

Although living in different countries and different social contexts Piaget and Vygotsky knew to some extend each other’s work, and even mentioned each other in their writings. In particular, they shared:

  • The belief that development constitutes a dialectical process;
  • The idea that development has biological and sociocultural origin;
  • Some references as Claraparede, Janet, and Baldwin.

Piaget and Vygotsky diverged mainly in the relation between learning and development. For Piaget development was mainly dependent on biological constraints (development precedes learning), while Vygotsky believed that learning pushed forward the development of the child (learning process is necessary for development).

Lev Vygotsky – Born: 1896, Russian Empire; Died: 1934, USSR

Jean Piaget – Born: 1986, Switzerland; 1980, Switzerland

Albert Bandura – 1925, Canadá (Age 86)

The zone of proximal development defines those functions that have not yet matured but are in the process of maturation, functions that will mature tomorrow but are currently in an embryonic state. These functions could be termed the ‘buds’ or ‘ flowers’ of development rather than the ‘fruits’ of development. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86) p.67

We said that in collaboration the child can always do more than he can independently. We must add the stipulation that he cannot do infinitely more. What collaboration contributes to the child’s performance is restricted to limits which are determined by the state of his development and his intellectual potential (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 209) p.67

We propose that an essential feature of learning is that it creates the zone of proximal development; that Is, learning awakens a variety of developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in collaboration with his peers (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 90) p.67


One important remark made by the authors concerning Vygotsky ideas is that the zone of proximal development is not a clear defined space where social interaction will generate a learning outcome. Instead, the zone of proximal development is created in the course of social interaction. Against the common idea that Vygotsky does not consider maturation as a relevant issue the authors propose the following cote:

‘Instruction is only useful when it moves ahead of development. When it does, it impels or wakens a whole series of functions that are in a stage of maturation lying in the zone of proximal development’ [Vygotsky, 1987, p. 212]. (p.67)

Another Vygotsky’s conviction, here highlighted, is the importance for researchers to be able to analyze individuals and the social as interconnected, instead of separated. The way to do this, he proposes, is to use units that can encapsulate them both. Word meanings, tools and goals, are all used by the individual and are part of the social world of which the individual is a part of (they are formed in a sociocultural context). For Vygotsky, these are used central units for the analyses of development. The other researchers will not ignore this way of managing research in a micro or macro social level.


Contradicting a common idea that Piaget’s work does not focus social interaction, the authors of this article highlight some early work made with children from 3 or 4 months of age when they first begin to imitate gestures of adults who have just imitated them. The authors sustain the relevance of these studies (with social interaction at the micro-level, or interpersonal contact) as they stand on the base of the main concepts defined by Piaget – accommodation – that is inherently linked to imitation, and considered of great importance to development since the first year of life. Social factors are considered of great influence in all stages of development, and not only at a interpersonal level. When addressing the development of moral judgment Piaget presents not only  adults as source of constraints but also the historical and cultural influences provided by social institutions (macro-level social interactions).

Piaget’s clear distinctive idea (both from Vygotsky and bandura): “[Peer interaction is] both qualitatively different from and superior to adult-child interaction in facilitating cognitive growth. Under conditions of unequal power, a child may well accept the adult’s view but is unlikely to undergo the cognitive restructuring necessary for cognitive development” (p.68).

Vygotsky. L.S. (1978). Mind in society, Cambridge MA: Harvard University. Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1987). The collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky: Vol. I. Problems of general psychology (R.W. Rieber & A.S. Carton, Eds ., N. Minick, Trans.). New York: Plenum.

Criticism is born of discussion, and discussion is only possible among equals: cooperation alone will therefore accomplish what intellectual constraint [unquestioning belief in the adult’s greater knowledge] failed to bring about (Piaget, 1932/1965, p. 409) p.69

Piaget, J. (1965). The moral judgment of the child. New York: Harcourt Brace. (Original work published in 1932)


The authors say that it is generally considered that Bandura’s distinctive belief is that children learn through imitation of models in their social environment. But neither Piaget or Vygotsky find this idea repulsive. One work by Piaget focus 3 and 4 month old children is proof of that, and Vygotsky has written that:

“Imitation is the source of instruction’s influence on development… Instruction is possible only where there is potential for imitation” [Vygotsky, 1987, pp.210,211]

The main idea that distinguishes Bandura’s though from Piaget’s, is that it does not really matter too much if it is a peer-to-peer interaction or child-adult interaction, the important is that “[t]hose who are most experienced and competent provide models of efficacious styles of thinking and behavior”(Bandura, 1989, p.45) (p.70). What is most important is the context in which the model is presented. For Bandura independently of age one of the individuals, one of them will be assumed by the other as most experienced and will be considered the model or assumed as someone with more authority. As we will see in other works made in the Vygotsky’s line of research, this idea is perfectly compatible with Vygotskys’s theory.

The exploration of three lines of research

Tudge and Winterhoff further explore the research developed by other researchers that followed the theoretical tradition of each of these three authors. As said earlier a main problem these researchers face is the impossibility of developing empirical work that could support or consider all aspects of any of the three theories. Instead, researchers focused some hypotheses derived from the theories in order to make their own analysis. The authors point out one other contribution for the lines of research to grow apart. They believe each theoretical approach requires a specific methodological frame of action that in some ways constraint the results of the research. Therefore, each research tradition may never achieve another’s result, even if ideally they would address the same subject. As an example the Vygotsky’s research tradition focus not on immediate results of collaboration, but rather in the ways in which a dyad arrive at a solution. In opposition, Piagetian research tradition focuses on results.

Vygotsky’s and Bandura’s traditions

Although most research done following these researcher has the tendency to point out the existing contradictions some work was already done showing some compatibilities.  One example is the work of some Vygotskian researchers who have contrasted peer and adult-child collaboration, they “have found that children paired with an adult subsequently improved more than those paired with a same-age or slightly older child” (p.72). This results although going against Piaget’s conclusions match with Bandura’s argument that “a partner’s competence may be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition in assisting development. Accurate perception of the partner’s greater competence may be critical.” (p.72). And for Bandura it is more natural for a child to recognize an adult as having greater competence than to recognize it in another child.

Vygotsky’s and Piaget’s tradition

Most researchers working within the Piagetian framework focused on achieved results, but some turned out to become also concerned with the process of interaction. Some as Perret-Clermont have argued that the unit of analyses, after all, should not be the individual but rather the interacting partners as a hole.

Vygotskian researchers: Ellis and Rogoff (1982, 1986); Radziszewska and Rogoff (1988); Rogoff and Gauvain (1986).

Perret-Clermont. A. (1980). Social interaction and cognitive development in children. London: Academic Press.

“Contextualizing” and “contextual” approaches

The authors propose a distinction that they believe is really relevant and that many interpreters missed to address. This distinction has to do with the difference between “contextualizing” and “contextual” approaches.

Contextualizing approach – the social world is the context in which development occurs and it plays an important role over the individuals’ development.  The individual and the context are conceptually distinguished, and “one can focus on the effects of the context on a child, or on the effects of a child on his or her context” (p.74).

Contextual approach – Distinction between the social world and the individual are not addressed and any boundaries between them are blurred.

This distinction is considered useful because it is in the origin of what makes these author really distinct.

Vygotsky’s theory is the clearest example of a contextual theory.

Piaget’s theory has a contextual approach only to certain degree. It mainly focus de individual as a unit. Nevertheless, in a dialectic interpretation, if both individual in a dyad change in the processes of development, a mutual interplay of influence has to be considered central.

Bandura’s theory has the most contextualizing approach. Social context is always present but the bidirectional influences are seen as distinct.

Contextual approach: New understanding, gained through collaboration, is a product of the child’s original understanding, the partner’s different understanding, the child’s difficulties with the task and the ways they are expressed in the course of the interaction, the partner’s responses to those difficulties, and so on. Since this process evolves over time, and each person’s responses depend on what the other has previously done or said, the outcome is one that cannot be attributed to either one or the other. The unit of analysis accordingly extends beyond the individual.” (p.76)

Cultures influence in development in Vygotsky’s view: “Culture creates special forms of behavior, changes the functioning of mind, constructs new levels in the developing system of human behavior …. In the process of historical development, a social being changes the means and methods of his behavior, transforms natural inclinations and functions, develops and creates new, specifically cultural, forms of behavior” [Vygotsky, 1983, pp. 29-30].

Jonathan R.H. Tudge and Paul A. Winterhoff (1993); Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bandura: Perspectives on the Relations between the Social World and Cognitive Development; Human Development 1993:36:61-81

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