Children, on-line learning and authentic teaching skills in primary education







Main Topics

Teachers  & Technology
Teaching Online
Activity Spaces


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Theoretical origins (Vygotsky)

Arising from the work of Vygotsky is the notion of a learner's zone proximal development (ZPD). This is defined as the distance between the actual development 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.  Learners ultimately internalise (appropriate) the knowledge transacted through assisted performance so that it becomes their own. A teacher's task is to place learning in the ZPD.




The provision for assisted performance is known as scaffolding. Common elements of scaffolding include

  • task definition
  • direct or indirect instruction
  • specification and sequencing of activities
  • provision of materials, equipment and facilities 
  • other environmental contributions

Scaffolding may include assistance with planning, organising, doing and/or reflecting on the specific task.  Such assistance is best made available in a timely manner matched to the learning needs and interests of the learner. 


The value of scaffolding

Effective scaffolding makes two major contributions

  • makes it easier for the learner to undertake a task successfully and thus 
    • expands the possible learning activities and experiences
    • increases the rate at which learning may be achieved
  • extends what is possible for a learner to perform and thus expands the ZPD since 

    the provision of powerful tools and well formed instructions enable higher order problems to be solved more rapidly.

Traditionally the assistance of scaffolding was provided by a teacher directly to a learner in real time. Scaffolding can also be provided indirectly as in the tutorial materials such as worksheets.


Scaffolding and ICT

Assistance may be provided to the student in ways that incorporate some use of ICT. 

Technology has the potential to contribute to the provision of scaffolding. The following diagrams indicate changes in the capabilities that might be achieved through the learner's competence with technology being used to expand independent problem solving, and enhanced scaffolding which may reduce the need for assistance and/or extend the range of assisted performance by the learner.



Learner with minimal technology 

Learner as competent user of available technology


Multimedia interactive ICT has increased the possibilities considerably in this regard and will also support a combination of direct and indirect scaffolding and mediation of learning. Explore the possible pathways indicated in the mind map below to scaffolding action and mediate learning. part of the scaffolding may include clarification of the current zone of proximal development and the appropriate matching and monitoring of learning activities.


In addition, Andy Clark puts the case for people being able to scaffold their own learning in his recent book Natural Born Cyborgs [Oxford University Press; (April 1, 2003) ISBN: 0195148665] especially with the use of ICT.


In a purely instructional context the teacher provides guided practice to the child with a clear sense of the goals or the outcomes of the learner's performance. This assistance (scaffolding) is gradually removed so the learner can perform the tasks independently. 


Related Challenges

 There are two related challenges for this to occur there are several requirements:

  • The school/system can address the issue of scaffolding the use of ICT in class programs.(...more)
  • The teacher has the knowledge, skills strategies and wisdom to be able to use ICT to scaffold learning activities being undertaken in the class (...more)
  • The learning activities are placed in the zone of proximal development (applies to the specific performance of specific students at specific points in time).
  • Developments achieved through effective teacher scaffolding and learner success change the zone of proximal development. Thus, in designing, developing and providing the necessary scaffolding, the teacher has to customise the learning activities to meet the short term needs of the student.

Potentially, a developmental sequence may provide a framework made up of the consecutive changes in a student's ZPD by addressing 'windows of opportunity' for learning. 


Scaffolding and Time

Often managed unconsciously there is a time component to the zone of proximal development, if only for practical purposes. For the scaffolding of a learning tasks to be successful it must enable the learner to be successful with the learning activities in a reasonable period of time, that is, within a window of opportunity.



Teaching with ICT

The following model is an attempt to show the flows that might apply in a teaching and learning situation that involves the use of ICT to scaffold and mediate a students learning. The model has adapted the Four Pillars notion from the UNESCO Task Force on Education for the Twenty-first Century. The outcomes are achieved on the lives of the learner through transference of learning.



Scaffolding and Mediation

Mediation draws on the scaffolding of action and experience to further enhance learning by enhancing purpose, meaning, experience and engagement and by supporting insightful questioning of existing knowledge, action and experience. The following mind map suggests several ways of scaffolding and mediating action and learning. These notions will be elaborated further in other pages




This site is maintained by Ivan Webb  phone 03 6324 3492
University of Tasmania