November 12, 2012

Social Development and the Need for a More-Knowledgeable Other

The PCCC Writing Center Blog would like to welcome guest blogger Shawn O’Neil. O'Neil is the Assistant Director for Academic Skills at the Learning Assistance Center—a learner-centered organization that provides tutoring and academic skills instruction for students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. For more information about his program, click HERE.  

Lev Vygotsky: you might not know his name, but I’m pretty sure you’ve demonstrated his Social Development Theory at some point between Kindergarten and today. Vygotsky posited that social interaction is pivotal to learning and that consciousness and cognition (you know, things otherwise known as “thinking”) are the product of socialization and social interactions.

His work has three major themes. He believed that social interaction plays a fundamental role in learning, and that, everything you learn, you learn twice—once on a interpsychological level (between you and others), and once on an intrapsychological level (inside yourself) (Vygotsky, 1978). He also coined the phrase “More Knowledgeable Other”—someone who has a better understanding or higher ability level than the learner, who helps the learner learn.

The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) is what I’d like to focus on in this post. Basically, this person can be anyone—a coach, a teacher, another student (of any age), or even a computer. This is someone who guides you in how to grow and improve, and who does it by interacting with you. Vygotsky would say that the MKO is someone who helps you go from not being able to do something, to being able to do it with help, to being able to do it on your own.
[image: Zone of Proximal Development] 

This person is pivotal in your ability to learn, and is the reason why tutoring programs are important. Vygotsky believed that the reason why we learn at all is to serve a social function, such as to communicate our needs. By going to a tutor or writing assistant with homework questions, you can talk with someone who knows where you’re coming from and can guide you in a better way to look at the material.  Your job as the learner is to try to internalize the processes that you’re shown by your MKO—whether that’s a friend, a tutor, or your instructor. Their help is not supposed to be just to make sure you got the “right answer”—it’s a way to get you thinking about how you think, and to learn the tips and tricks you need to know to do the work yourself, later.

So when someone corrects an error or makes a suggestion on how you can improve, try to think of their help narrowly, in terms of just that one assignment or project, but as a way to improve yourself. What steps did that person take?  Try asking questions like, “how did you know to change that expression?” or “where could I look up this information, if I need it again?” You don’t have to do what they do how they do it, but by learning how they learned, you’ll be in better shape to internalize the processes and make them make sense to you.

This process is something you repeat over and over again. Each time you learn how to complete a task on your own; you’re ready to learn another. So let’s keep learning!
How do help guide students through the learning process in an academic support center? What are some strategies your center has incorporated during a tutoring session to help tutees better understand content?


Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment