13 Sociocultural Theory Examples

Reviewed By Chris Drew (PhD)

Chris Drew (PhD)

➡️ Video Lesson
➡️ Study Card
sociocultural theory example and definition, explained below
➡️ Introduction

Sociocultural theory emphasizes the role that social relations play in an individual’s development. Vygotsky is credited with defining sociocultural theory and postulating the concept of More Knowledgeable Others (MKOs).

MKOs are people in the lives of the developing child, such as parents, teachers, and role models, that have more experience and shape the child’s development.

By extension, an individual’s values and beliefs are also influenced by social groups, religious institutions, the media and culture.

Although Vygotsky only lived a short while, his ideas have had a tremendous impact on educational psychology.

➡️ Definition of Sociocultural Theory

Sociocultural theory emphasizes how learning and development are mediated by social interactions.

Here are two scholarly definitions:

  • Definition 1: “[Sociocultural theory] emphasizes the influence of social interaction and culture in development. According to Vygotsky, social interaction leads to changes in children’s thinking.” (Salkind, 2004, p. 279)
  • Definition 2: “The sociocultural approach draws attention to the role played by cultural tools and signs in mediating thinking and intelligent action.” (Benson & Haith, 2010, p. 520)

According to this theory’s logic, a learner in the United States is likely to learn information in a different order and at a different pace to a learner in a traditional Indigenous African culture:

  • American children might learn how to sit, wait in lines, and cross roads very quickly
  • Traditional indigenous African children might be much more adept at hunting and curing meat at a very young age. As a result, their cognitive and physical development may diverge from the American child’s.

That is not to say one would be smarter than another; but their skillsets may develop at different times in life. There are, of course, pros and cons of each path; and both paths are strongly influenced by their cultural contexts.

Sociocultural Theory Examples

1. Learning Collaboratively in the Classroom

children playing together

In a classroom setting, students might work in groups to solve problems or complete projects. For example, in a history class, students might be divided into groups to research different aspects of a historical event and then present their findings to the class.

This collaborative approach allows students to learn from each other, share diverse perspectives, and develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter. The teacher facilitates these interactions, guiding the students and providing support when needed.

This method highlights how learning is a social process and aligns with Vygotsky’s emphasis on the importance of social interactions in cognitive development.

Read More: Collaborative Learning Theory

2. Apprenticeships and Skill Acquisition

carpenter

Apprenticeships are a traditional form of learning where a novice learns a trade or skill under the guidance of an experienced mentor.

For example, an apprentice carpenter works alongside a master carpenter, observing and participating in the construction of furniture. Over time, the apprentice gains hands-on experience, receives feedback, and gradually takes on more complex tasks.

This learning model is rooted in sociocultural theory, as it emphasizes the role of social interaction and the transmission of cultural knowledge from one generation to the next.

3. Language Immersion Programs

teacher and student talking

In language immersion programs, students are placed in an environment where they must use a new language to communicate and learn other subjects.

For instance, in a Spanish immersion school, students might take math and science classes taught entirely in Spanish. This immersive experience forces students to use the language in meaningful contexts, promoting rapid language acquisition.

The interaction with teachers and peers in the target language facilitates learning, demonstrating how sociocultural environments influence cognitive development.

4. Peer Tutoring and Mentoring

students studying together

Peer tutoring programs involve students helping each other learn. For example, a high school student proficient in math might tutor a younger student struggling with algebra.

The tutor explains concepts, works through problems, and provides encouragement. This interaction benefits both the tutor, who reinforces their own knowledge, and the tutee, who gains a better understanding of the subject.

Peer tutoring reflects sociocultural theory by showing how social interactions and relationships can enhance learning.

Read More: Peer to Peer Learning

5. Cultural Practices and Cognitive Development

multicultural kids

Different cultures have unique practices that shape cognitive development. For example, in many Indigenous communities, children learn through participation in community activities rather than formal instruction.

A child might learn to fish by accompanying family members on fishing trips, observing techniques, and gradually taking on more responsibilities.

This hands-on, communal approach to learning exemplifies how cognitive development is influenced by cultural practices and social interactions, as described in sociocultural theory.

6. Role-Playing in the Classroom

role playing in the classroom

In classroom settings, children often engage in role-playing activities such as pretending to be doctors, teachers, or shopkeepers.

For instance, a group of children might set up a pretend grocery store, with some acting as customers and others as cashiers.

Through this play, children learn social roles, language skills, and problem-solving strategies. The interaction with peers and the guidance from teachers during these activities help children develop cognitively and socially, aligning with Vygotsky’s emphasis on the importance of social context in learning.

7. Community-Based Learning Projects

volunteers

In community-based learning projects, students engage with their local community to address real-world issues.

For example, a high school environmental science class might collaborate with local organizations to clean up a polluted river. Students conduct research, organize events, and present their findings to the community.

This type of learning connects classroom knowledge with real-life experiences and demonstrates the importance of cultural and social contexts in education, as students learn through active participation and collaboration.

8. Interactive Digital Learning Tools

child with VR set

Modern digital learning tools, such as educational apps and online collaborative platforms, are designed based on sociocultural principles.

For example, a language learning app might include features that allow users to interact with native speakers, join study groups, and participate in discussions.

These social interactions enhance learning by providing immediate feedback and exposing learners to authentic language use. The design of these tools reflects the idea that learning is a socially mediated process.

9. Parent-Child Reading Sessions

mother and child reading together

When parents read to their children, they are engaging in a form of guided participation.

For instance, a parent might read a storybook to their child, ask questions about the plot, and encourage the child to predict what will happen next. This interaction helps the child develop literacy skills and comprehension through the support and scaffolding provided by the parent.

This example illustrates how family interactions contribute to cognitive development, emphasizing the role of social and cultural contexts in learning.

10. Sports Coaching for Skill Development

coach

In sports, coaches (the MKOs) play a crucial role in helping athletes develop their skills. For instance, a basketball coach might work with a young player to improve their shooting technique.

The coach provides demonstrations, gives feedback, and sets up practice drills that challenge the player just enough to be within their ZPD.

As the player practices and receives ongoing guidance, they gradually improve their shooting skills and gain confidence in their abilities, illustrating the importance of social interaction and expert guidance in learning.

11. Math Tutoring Programs

teacher and student

In math tutoring programs, a tutor (the MKO) helps a student understand mathematical concepts that they find difficult.

For instance, a high school student struggling with algebra might work with a tutor who explains the concepts, demonstrates problem-solving methods, and provides practice problems.

The tutor adjusts the level of assistance based on the student’s progress, ensuring that the student is working within their ZPD. Over time, the student becomes more confident and capable of solving algebra problems independently.

12. Cooking Classes with Expert Chefs

cooking class

In cooking classes, students often learn under the guidance of an experienced chef (the MKO). For example, a culinary student might struggle to make a complex dish on their own but, with the chef’s step-by-step guidance, they can complete the task successfully.

The chef demonstrates techniques, provides tips, and corrects mistakes, allowing the student to perform tasks within their ZPD. As the student becomes more proficient, the chef reduces their assistance, helping the student develop independent cooking skills.

13. Grandmother Sharing Stories with Her Granddaughter

grandmother and granddaughter

A grandmother shares stories from her childhood with her granddaughter, acting as the MKO. She recounts tales of family traditions, cultural events, and life lessons learned over the years.

The granddaughter listens attentively, asking questions and engaging with the stories. Through these interactions, the granddaughter gains a deeper understanding of her cultural heritage and family history.

Go Deeper: Sociocultural Psychology 101

Key Theorists

Key sociocultural theorists include:

  • Lev Vygotsky: The father of the theory, Vygotsky came up with concepts like the Zone of Proximal Development and the More Knowledgeable Other.
  • Jerome Bruner: Bruner came up with the concept of scaffolding, which emphasized the role of teachers and parents in helping extend children’s learning and development.
  • Barbra Rogoff: Showed how children in different cultures develop at different paces, which challenges Piaget’s stage-based view of development. She came up with the term ‘cognitive apprenticeships’ to explain how we learn from our MKOs and culture.
  • Bronfenbrenner: Highlights the importance of family, friends, community, teachers, church, society, and culture in influencing development. Bronfenbrenner came up with the ecological systems theory which shows the most to least influential social factors for a child.
  • Lave and Wegner: Came up with situated learning theory, a theory that emphasizes the value of learning within social contexts, such as in the workplace or in authentic learning environments.

Conclusion

Sociocultural theory explains that children develop psychologically as a result of their interactions with the others in their world. Parents, teachers, peers and MKOs all have a profound effect on the developing child.

Societal institutions such as religious organizations and political parties are also highly influential. At the same time, a nation’s work culture and media present other forces that shape a child’s development.

As the child interacts with these elements, they internalize the attitudes, values, and beliefs of those entities.

We can see how strong these influences can be by looking at the different gender roles and work cultures that exist throughout the world.

➡️ References and Further Reading

References

Benson, J. B., & Haith, M. M. (2010). Social and emotional development in infancy and early childhood. London: Academic Press.

Berk, L. (1994). Vygotsky’s theory: The importance of make-believe play. Young Children, 50(1), 30-38.

Bruner, J.S. (1983). Child’s talk: Learning to use language. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 1, 111 – 114.

Irvin, M. (2017). The importance of play in early childhood education. Master’s Thesis and Capstone Project. Northwestern College: Orange City. Retrieved from https://nwcommons.nwciowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1067&context=education_masters

Salkind, N. J. (2004) An Introduction to Theories of Human Development. London: SAGE Publications.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1934/1986). Thought and Language. MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological process. Harvard University Press.

Website | + posts

Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

Website | + posts

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *