Social Development and Cognitive Flexibility Theory

Social Development and Cognitive Flexibility Theory Jennifer Schmidt


Social Development Theory by Lev Vygotsky proposes that socialization affects the learning process in an individual. Social learning precedes development. It tries to explain consciousness or awareness and cognition are the result of socialization. The environment in which children grow up will influence how they think and what they think about.

  • Social interaction plays a fundamental role in cognitive development. According to Vygotsky "Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological).”
  • The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) describes the range of skill that can be developed with adult guidance or peer collaboration exceeds what can be done alone. Full cognitive development requires social interaction.
  • The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) is any person who has a higher level of ability or understanding that the learner for the task, process or concept. An MKO may be an older adult, a teacher, or an expert.

Cognitive Flexibility Theory by R. Spiro proposes that learners grasp complex concepts easier when presented with multiple representations of the same information. The repetition of the information creates mental scaffolding necessary for the transfer of skills, information and knowledge. Learners are given the opportunity to develop their own representations of information.


Social Development Theory

  • Language development
    • A child learns to pronounce words based on modeling, reinforcement, and repetition of correct sound from the parent.
  • Modeling skills actions or instructions
    • A child learns to arrange alphabet blocks from A-Z with guidance from the parent correctly instructing and modeling the order.
  • Play allows children to stretch themselves cognitively
    • Make-believe play allows children to exhibit behaviors, learn about society, and take on roles they would normally not be able to do in real life.

Cognitive Flexibility Theory

  • Learning activities provide multiple representations of content
    • Multiple viewpoints are presented in a study of WWII in a social studies class.
  • Knowledge sources are interconnected
    • Learn off the wall. Bulletin boards, classroom displays and materials reinforce concepts presented in lessons.

Why Use These Theories

The Social Development Theory allows educators to focus on the role teacher plays in instruction. Teacher engages students in an intentional, systematic manner by engaging students in challenging and meaningful activities. Lessons are successful when they are created with Vygotsky’s premise that children can perform more challenging tasks when assisted by more advanced and competent individuals. Students under the guidance, modeling, and reinforcement of teachers can take students from the Level of Potential Development, upper limit of assisted tasks, to Actual Development, upper limit of individual tasks.

The Cognitive Flexibility Theory allows educators to focus on specific instruction and the presentation of information from multiple perspectives and use of many diverse examples. Learners are given the opportunity to develop their own representations of information to properly learn.

Comparison and Contrast

The Social Development Theory and the Cognitive Flexibility Theory both take into account learning is cognitive. Through guided participation and scaffolding learners are able to develop knowledge. Both theories rely on the connections between people, perspectives, and examples. With these foundations Vygotsky and Spiro contend learners are able to develop their own representations of the world around them. The major difference is found in the instruction process. Whereas the Cognitive Flexibility Theory allows for multiple viewpoints to convey content; the Social Development Theory is more structured.

Christy, T. C. (2013). Vygotsky, cognitive development and language. Historiographia Linguistica, 40(1), 199-227. doi:10.1075/hl.40.1.07chr

McLeod, S.Lev vygotsky. Retrieved from

Spiro, R. (2016). Cognitive flexibilty theory and the post-gutenberg mind: Rand spiro's home page. Retrieved from

Created by:
Jennifer Schmidt