Vygotsky, Erikson, and Piaget and Their Contributions to Education

Updated on November 29, 2018
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I've been an educational professional for many years, holding certified qualifications in that field.

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist. He comes in 83rd on the list of influential psychologists of the 20th century, according to Review of General Psychology, 2002. He’s dead though (he died very young at age 37 in 1934) so he never knew his dizzying ranking in the hot 100! Actually, I read that his ideas were somewhat controversial at the time and nobody seemed to care much until after he died, whereupon he was declared one of the leading psychologists in the Soviet Union.

He’s best-known for his idea of the zone of proximal development. In simple language, this is the range of things that a child is learning to accomplish. For Vygotsky, people need help to construct knowledge—it only happened through interaction (not alone). That is to say that there is a social connection, whereby society shapes how the tools of learning are shaped (and thus are developed) in a person’s mind relative to the world or surrounding culture of the individual.[1]

[1] Child and Adolescent Development for Educators, 2/e, Judith Meece, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill; Student Study Guide by Nancy Defrates-Densch (Cognitive Development: Piaget's and Vygotsky's Theories)

Zone of Proximal Development Diagram

Jean Piaget

Vygotsky’s ideas didn’t really gain much ground until the 1980s, when the popularity of our next top 100 psychologist, Jean Piaget, started to wane (right around the time of his death, incidentally). They can’t have waned much because Paiget is really ripping it up on the influential psychologists of the 20th century rankings, coming in at number two, just ahead of the mighty Freud with only that pesky Skinner stopping him from being on top of the pile. So, from this I can infer that Piaget’s impact in the world of psychology was greater than that of Vygotsky; Piaget’s cited more in journals and textbooks, for example.

Both Paiget and Vygotsky were constructivists. This implies that we build our own understanding of the world in which we operate. Paiget was all about how we get out of balance when we meet a new situation or challenge – our “equilibrium” becomes disequilibrium and we seek to get back into kilter. We may be able to work things out using our existing frameworks of knowledge, but if not we have to find new ways of organizing the new information – this is called “accommodation” and it’s how our learning develops. Piaget said there were a number of stages that we went through:

1. Sensorimotor stage: from birth to age two (using our senses, e.g. sucking);

2. Preoperational stage: from beginning to speak to the age of seven (starting to use symbols and thinking is egocentric)

3. Concrete operational stage: from ages seven to eleven. Children become less egocentric (friends become important), and they’re starting to think logically but within rigid frameworks.

4. Formal operational stage: Age eleven up; abstract thought and problem solving is developing.

Piaget's Assimilation and Accommodation Model
Piaget's Assimilation and Accommodation Model

Erik Homburger Erikson

Erik Homburger Erikson was a German psychologist who fled to America because the Nazis started burning books, which he rightly anticipated wouldn't end well.

Despite never gaining a degree, he worked as a professor and makes it to 12th place on the influential psychologists’ top 100 ranking.

He’s best known for “identity crisis” – the concept of us trying to find our rightful place and role in the world when we were spotty kids.

Adolescents are faced with physical growth, sexual maturity, and integrating ideas of themselves and about what others think of them.[1] There are actually eight stages of development starting from infancy where trust and mistrust was the "crisis" we were trying to overcome. Getting through these crises helps you to find your way in life. Not getting through them leads you to be a little lost sole searching for meaning. I'm in the generativity versus stagnation stage of middle age, meaning I have a need to give something back to the younger generation, else I'll stagnate and become even more bitter than I already am. Next up for me is integrity versus despair. Great, roll on death!

That's my two-cents on the double-Erik-hamburger and his sidekicks, Piaget and Vygotsky!

[1] Kendra Cherry, Identity Crisis - Theory and Research

Rank within the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century

Rank (Most Emminent)
Rank (Journal Citation Frequency)
Eponym (noun formed after them)
B.F. Skinner
Jean Piaget
Sigmund Freud
Erik Homburger Erikson
Erikson’s psychosocial stages
Lev Semenovich Vygotsky
Vygotsky test
Source: Review of General Psychology, 2002, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 139–152, The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century, Steven J. Haggbloom, Western Kentucky University.

© 2017 Murray Lindsay


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    • profile image


      4 months ago

      sir please you can send proper data of these theories freud and erikson

    • Jessie L Watson profile image

      Jessie Watson 

      2 years ago from Wenatchee Washington

      Last year I read "Construction of Reality in the Child" by Piaget. That was probably one of the driest books I've ever laid eyes on but his stages of development are still well regarded throughout the field of Child Psychology.


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