Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

Zone of proximal developmentVygotsky’s “Zone of proximal development” describes how the learner moves cognitively from potential to actual development (a constructivism theory).

  • What the learner cannot do.
  • What the leaner can do with guidance.
  • What the learner can do.

This type of learning can only be facilitated through guidance and support (Moll, 2013). “Vygotsky’s social constructivism is an “outside in” approach as compared to Piaget’s “inside out” theory” Marti (2013, p. 58). To learn, scaffolding is required to build on the theoretical and skill development.

The zone of proximal development 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).

Vygotsky’s theory advanced the cognitive educational domain from the cognizing individual to that of interaction and social learning development (Tryphon & Vonèche, 2013). The zone of proximal development theorises the state at which the learner moves from potential to actual development, and the importance of the social interactions to progress the learner. This cognitive development processes from a stage of ‘what is not known, to what is known’. The learners are encouraged to demonstrate the capabilities of social aspects of learning (Moll, 2013).

For the nurse educator, the need to determine level of knowledge and understanding is fundamental. Maybe the nurse specialises in certain areas and is currently learning new skills or knowledge, they may well move between expert and novice so an array of strategies to support should be initiated. Constructive feedback strategies will be required for ongoing development, especially for the ‘what is not known’ aspects.

Keywords: cognitive; Vygotsky; constructivist; proximal development; scaffolding.


Vygotsky, L. (1987). Zone of proximal development. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes, 5291.

Marti, E. (2013) Mechanisms of internalisation of knowledge in Piaget’s and Vygotky’s theories. In Tryphon, A., & Vonèche, J. (pp. 57-84). Piaget Vygotsky: The Social Genesis Of Thought. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Moll, L. C. (2013). LS Vygotsky and education. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Tryphon, A., Vonèche, J., & Library, E. B. L. e. (2013). Piaget Vygotsky: The Social Genesis Of Thought. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Wikipedia (2016) Zone of Proximal Devlopment