The best times of productivity often happen when in a state of “flow” – say a sustained state of seamless productivity while coding, a burst of self-expression while composing music, a sublime feeling of sentient exhilaration while working out and more. However, as great as that state is, its become increasingly hard over the years to achieve for me with all the various dopamine rollercoaster of distractions and the overwhelming demands of time. I came across constructivist methods while researching active learning methods and Vygotsky is a name that is prominent in this subject.
ZPD was a theory proposed by Lev Vygotsky in the 1930s. The crux of his proposal was that giving children experiences that better supported their learning enhanced their development. The 1930s were an interesting time where there was much debate about the the best methods of education and development for children. Vygotsky introduced the concept of ZPD to criticize the psychometric-based testing in Russian schools. He argued that academic tests where students displayed the same academic level were not the best way to determine intelligence. Instead, he focused on the augmented ability of children via social interaction to solve problems via interacting with more knowledgeable persons. He also inferred that while self-directed curiosity based approached worked for some subjects like languages , their learning in other subjects like Mathematics benefited by interacting with more “knowledgeable” folks.
Essentially ZPD is the place where once cannot progress in their learning without the interaction of a person who is high skilled at that learning objective. In a group setting, if some individuals grasp the concept, while other individuals are still in ZPD, the peer interaction between may create the most conducive environment for learning. While it makes sense at first glance, the nuance here is the ability to recognize and set learning objectives that are within the range of ZPD to enhance learning as well as ensure the right subject matter experts around in order to help complete that objective. ZPD can be applicable to various situations, everything ranging from the learning patterns of my 8-year old to setting appropriate goals to someone on my team for their advancement.
More interestingly, reflecting upon my learning blocks over the years, I have noticed multiple instances when serendipitous encounters/conversations have unblocked what seemed an impasse. It may not be too much of a stretch to apply this to religious philosophies like say Buddhism where the role of a teacher important for attainment of one’s own “inner guru” to become a guru.
ZPD and leading teams
One of the key areas for being successful leaders is goal setting for your teams. Analyzing the tasks that are in ZPD for your team with a view to their future aspirations is invaluable.
Before goal setting, its worth the time to analyze the tasks that are within ZPD. Then validate if the team has a variety of skill sets and expertise that can help mentorship for team members that are within ZPD but need that extra expertise to help them through it. For example, if a team member is tasked with an important large scale organizational objective, pair them with a partner that is more experienced to help them accomplish that task.
Delegating your own tasks to folks who are interested in being managers and being the subject matter expert that helps them navigate ZPD. Challenging oneself to think about the types of learning we might or might not be doing on a daily basis and the effect of ZPD can help enhance that learning process.
Contemplating on my own learning, as it currently stands, is a daily dance around various concepts based on time, interest and compulsions – the patchwork quilt of topics consumed (tech, news etc) could use a recipe with ZPD in mind on topics that need to be reenforced or are important to enhance.
Great paper on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development: Instructional Implications and Teachers’ Professional Development