Vygotsky, Piaget, Dewey and Service Learning
In order to understand service learning we first must understand a bit about educational psychology. Since the times of Aristotle and Plato there has been the ongoing debate about how we learn best, what elements are the most important when it comes to intellectual growth, and how to best implement this within an education system.
A better understanding of some of the leading educational psychologists can help to provide an understanding of how service learning fits into the framework of best practices when it comes to education. Here we take a closer look at some of the leading theories in the educational sphere from some of its most influential players.
While Piaget focused prominently on the cognitive development of children his beliefs still strongly influence the world of education today. His main theories shattered common perception that children were less competent thinkers than adults and reframed our understanding of how children process information. Piaget’s theory was that children are born with certain understandings of the world that new information must then be filtered through and put into appropriate ‘schemas’ or categories of understanding. In essence all of us have building blocks that education then helps to shape.
Vygostsky was all about making meaning and firmly believed that community and social interaction are at the core of cognitive development. Vygotsky argued, “learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human psychological function.” In essence our culture and environment shape our educational development and exposure to a variety of experiences and social interactions are essential to cognitive development.
Further Reading: Learn more about the educational theories of Vygotsky
John Dewey came onto the forefront of educational psychology a bit later in the game, but was a proponent for educational reform. He strongly believed that sitting in a classroom wasn’t going to cut it and was one of the first to be verbal and passionate about the fact that we learn best through the act of doing.
Further Reading: The One TED Talk that Everyone in Education Needs to Watch Right Now
The Service Learning Connection:
So what do these theories teach us about the psychology behind education.
- It teaches us that when it comes to best practices surrounding education differing opinions still exist
- It shows us that regardless of which theories make the most sense one common thread remains, what happens in the classroom is not the only way in which education happens
- It reminds us that emerging trends are in support of more holistic approaches to education in order to cultivate life long learning
As the National Commission on Service- Learning stated; “Service-learning is a teaching and learning approach that integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” Service Learning is in many ways a response to Vygotsky, Piaget, and Dewey, combining their theories surrounding education, and coming up with alternatives to our traditional education system that better meet some of educational psychology’s key findings.
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