Zone of Proximal Development is one of those buzz phrases you hear bandied about a lot in ed psych. It’s often mis-understood and probably needs some clarification. I think better with pictures so I drew some pictures to talk about ZPD. We tend to think about what we know like the picture below.
But Lev Vygotsky postulated that what we REALLY know looks more like the following:
His point being that we can’t really learn what we already know. That’s the solid blue in the middle. We also can’t really learn something that we don’t know exists. That’s the white area — all those things we don’t know anything about. We can only learn what we know something about and that’s the fuzzy blue area. Lev Vygotsky called this the zone of proximal development and it represents a kind of cognitive zone where people can learn. With help, a person can expand that zone — a teacher can provide a scaffold to extend it.
It’s like this class. In the first week, my scaffolding started with telling you that something existed. It was sort of like throwing you into the pool and telling you to swim — before you knew what a pool was or that it even existed — but the simple act of informing you that the technology existed and providing you with a rationale and a framework within which to learn more constitutes a scaffold. That extended your ZPDs which permitted you to learn more.