What is the Zone of Proximal Development?


I have somewhat of a unique educational background.  My undergraduate degree is in Business Administration and my graduate degree is in Developmental Psychology. Naturally, I draw on my research background from both when thinking and writing here at Chapman and Company.  One concept that is well known in the developmental literature that is less well known on the business side is Lev Vygotsky's theory on the relationship between development and learning called The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

 Vygotsky defines it as:


“the distance between the actual developmental level (of a child) 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.”  

 ZPD is also known as scaffolding in developmental literature. In short, adults use scaffolds to help children reach abilities they do not currently possess like riding a bike (think training wheels). When the training wheels come off, children still cannot ride by themselves. It takes a parent to hold the bike and run behind for a few steps until the child gains the confidence to ride on their own.  Builders use literal scaffolds to construct buildings. When they are finished the scaffolds come down and the buildings stand on their own.  This is analogous to what we do here at Chapman and Company.  We provide the support for you, your product, your idea, or your company to take the next steps in your development.  We help you recognize what you can do yourself, what you can do with help, and what you shouldn’t do through guidance and collaboration.

 ZPD is also relevant to the growth and development of entrepreneurial ecosystems.  Startups thrive off of mentoring and collaboration.  Using the examples and experiences of other entrepreneurs is the key that unlocks all the doors and fuels rapid and sustainable growth.  From this point of view, Vygotsky may well have been talking about small business growth instead of the growth and development of small children.   

 If you want to read more on ZPD and a little of the theoretical history behind it, here is a link to Vygotsky’s original paper on the Zone of Proximal Development from 1979.  It is easiest to digest it in small bites.  

Scott Bragg