A More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) is anyone that has greater ability than the learner and can act as a guide.
The MKO has more experience and skill at performing a particular task, going through a particular process, or a deeper understanding of particular concepts.
Examples of MKOs include: parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors. These individuals can help the learner make progress in pursuit of mastering a skill or acquiring knowledge.
More Knowledgeable Others and the Zone of Proximal Development
The concept of the more knowledgeable other comes from Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory. When helping a student, ideally the MKO will understand how to use Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).
The ZPD is:
“the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).
There are three zones:
- The zone where the student can perform the task completely independently,
- The zone where they cannot, and
- The zone in between where the MKO assists the student (this is the ZPD).
These zones are represented graphically as concentric circles, as shown below:
It is the MKO’s job to help ensure the learner is moving through the zone where they can achieve more with the help of the MKO, who will eventually enable the student to do difficult tasks independently.
More Knowledgeable Other Definition
Scholarly definitions of the More Knowledgeable Other include:
- “…an experienced and well-informed individual who has more knowledge on a concept, process, or task than the learner [who] offers support through verbal interactions, thereby assisting the less competent person in developing his/her cognitive and affective domains” (Stylidis, Woosnam & Kim, 2021, p. 473)
- “…any agent who leads to greater learning in the less knowledgeable” (Jarrett, 2022, p. 4)
More Knowledgeable Others Examples
1. The Parent
An involved parent is the best example of an MKO. The parent is continuously serving as the more knowledgeable other for their child for most of their lives.
Beginning with infancy, the parent is helping the baby learn to eat on their own, sit-up, stand, and walk independently. After that, the parent is there to teach them how to dress themselves, how to speak and carry-out daily functions.
As the child gets older, the parent is there to provide advice on how to handle the many difficulties of life. This includes how to cope emotionally with frustrations and failures, as well as romantic relationships and internal struggles.
In many Western cultures, the ultimate goal is for the child to be able to function completely independent of any assistance. They must learn to be self-sufficient and no longer rely on help from a parental MKO.
2. The Teacher
Second only to the parent, the teacher is the next most enduring MKO in a child’s life. Teachers spend almost as much time with a child as the parent. The teacher is responsible for helping the child learn to read, write, and problem-solve.
These tasks seem simple enough on the surface, but in fact, they become increasingly more difficult throughout the school years. Writing starts with just the formation of letters and eventually progresses to the point of being able to compose a scientific paper or abstract critical analysis of a piece of literature.
The subject domains expand as well, to include math, science, and technology. Subjects such as chemistry and physics require an MKO in the form of a teacher that is especially skilled at explaining some of the most complex academic concepts in the education system.
The role of the MKO is so essential that over the course of a student’s educational journey, literally hundreds of teachers will step in and out of their lives.
3. The Nanny
Some parents are so incredibly busy that they must hire a nanny to take over many of the responsibilities of raising a child. Dual-career households may mean that both mother and father work long hours, travel routinely, and have little spare time to take care of youngsters.
In this scenario, the nanny is the child’s most important MKO. Everything that a parent should do is now the responsibility of a hired professional.
Some nannies have specialized training, while others may have the position due to networks among parents and community organizations.
Either way, the nanny will teach the child everything from how to walk to how to handle kids at school that want to create trouble. In some cases, a child’s bond with their nanny may become stronger than with the parents.
4. The Coach
The coach serves as a very specific type of MKO. Their role is very narrowly defined to athletics. They are continuously assessing their players’ zone of proximal development, and then working out practice routines to help them progress to the next level of their potential.
In some cases, the coach might also serve as a kind of mentor. For example, in disadvantaged neighborhoods, a young player may see their coach as the only person they look up to.
The coach offers advice about life and may take a special interest in the child’s future. They guide them, try to keep them on the straight and narrow and stay out of trouble.
Many of today’s professional athletes will give a special coach in their life due credit for their success.
5. The Peer in Collaborative Learning
Peers can also be MKOs. When teachers implement collaborative learning activities in the classroom, often more skilled students with be mixed with students with lower abilities.
This way, the higher-skilled peers can help their less-abled classmates. The teacher may not explicitly label each student’s role in the group, but more than likely, the different ability levels with show.
This is a great opportunity for the more advanced students to learn about leadership and group dynamics. For the students that need a little extra help, sometimes they are more likely to listen to a classmate than the teacher. That makes the situation a win/win scenario.
6. The Mentor
A mentor is someone that acts as a kind of coach for a less experienced other. Sometimes large corporations will assign mentors to new employees to help them acclimate to the culture and fit in more quickly.
Mentors can offer their expertise and professional judgement from a more experienced perspective. They take time to get to know the mentee, their background and personality, and the unique challenges they may face.
Over time, the relationship can deepen and develop in ways that will affect the mentee for their entire career. Those individuals may go on to have significant accomplishments on their own merits.
The respected psychologist Dr. Howard Gardner has discussed the impact his mentor, Dr. Jerome Bruner, had on his career.
7. The Older Sibling
Those who go first know the best way. That’s because they have already attempted what fails and have learned from their mistakes. Although unfortunate, that can be a good thing for those that come afterward.
An older sibling is a more knowledgeable other in so many ways. They can pass on what they learned to their younger siblings, who may or may not listen.
This means that the younger siblings won’t make the same mistakes as the older brother or sister. For example, getting advice on the importance of studying, staying in school, surrounding yourself with good friends, or not letting the small stuff be so upsetting.
We usually think of an MKO as someone that can help another person get better at something, like a teacher that helps students learn to read. But, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the MKO can help others in ways that are much more consequential in the big scheme of things called life.
8. The Tutor
Maybe the person that represents the most obvious form of an MKO is the tutor. The tutor is hired specifically for the purpose of helping a student, usually in a particular area of study such as math or chemistry.
More than likely, the tutor has a lot of experience in that subject, which is the very definition of an MKO. If they are good at their job, then they also know not to just give the answers.
A good tutor will automatically incorporate the ZPD based on their instinctive assessment of the student’s abilities. Providing assignments that are not too hard and not too easy will come naturally to an experienced tutor.
9. The Project Manager
A project manager’s (PM) primary responsibility is to deliver a completed project, on time and according to standards. In that role, they need to keep the team on schedule, provide just the right amount of oversight, and allocate tasks according to the team’s profile.
A good project manager will know which members of the team can handle certain tasks and which cannot. Because the PM has a lot of experience, they will be able to anticipate problems and avoid those situations if possible.
This can mean providing the team with the appropriate training early on, or even selecting the right members to begin with. The PM is most likely selected exactly because they are the best MKO for the job.
Often, therapists aren’t there to teach you anything but rather to help give you the tools to figure things out for yourself.
This MKO is unique in that they don’t know more about your life than you, but they can guide you through the thinking processes required to solve problems in your life.
For example, your therapist might walk you through cognitive behavioral therapy to help you have greater metacognitive capacities. In other words, they know more than you about coping and self-regulatory strategies that they can then help you practice in your daily life.
The most knowledgeable other (MKO) is a person that is experienced and knows a lot about something. That “something” could be an academic subject, an athletic or musical skill, or it could be life experience.
Vygotsky believed that MKOs play a crucial role in the educational process. Students benefit most from having experienced teachers. Ideally, those teachers understand the zone of proximal development (ZPD).
The MKO should be able to impart their knowledge to each individual student at a level that will maximize their chances for growth.
Offering instruction that is too advanced or overly simplistic will not be helpful, and may actually do more harm than good.
Abtahi, Y., Graven, M. & Lerman, S. (2017). Conceptualizing the more knowledgeable other within a multi-directional ZPD. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 96, 275–287. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-017-9768-1
Clapper, T. (2015). Cooperative-based learning and the zone of proximal development. Simulation & Gaming, 46, 148-158. https://doi.org/10.1177/1046878115569044
Eun, B. (2017). The zone of proximal development as an overarching concept: A framework for synthesizing Vygotsky’s theories. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51(1), 18-30. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2017.1421941
Jarrett, K. (2022). The Utility of Game-Based Approaches within the PE Curriculum Design and Implementation Process to Develop “More Knowledgeable Others”. Strategies, 35(3), 3-10.
Roth, W. M., & Radford, L. (2010). Re/thinking the zone of proximal development (symmetrically). Mind, Culture, and Activity, 17(4), 292–307.
Stylidis, D., Woosnam, K. M., & Kim, S. (2022). Perceptions of attractions, residents as “more knowledgeable others” and destination image: Evidence from two destinations. International Journal of Tourism Research.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.