The Action-Theoretical Approach in Educational Psychology

Welko Tomic

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    A new impetus to the study of cognitive development and learning emerged recently, characterized by an orientation toward the ideas of Vygotsky and his successors. Central in the Soviet contribution to educational psychology is the action-theoretical approach, with mental action as a key concept. As background for the Vygotskian ideas, we describe the only philosophical principles allowed in the Soviet Union, the accompanying extremely optimistic portrayal of mankind, and the resulting rather negative impact on research activities. This optimistic view, which goes back to Lamarck, and the overriding importance of teaching have a great attraction for educational psychologists and educators. Vygotsky's sociohistorical theory of higher mental functions shows the marks of Marxism-Leninism on the one hand, and the influence of Haeckel's recapitulation theory on the other. We demonstrate that his associates and successors elaborated his internalization hypothesis. His concept of self regulation, which is highly similar to the concept of metacognition, and his vague description of the zone of proximal development induce research by cognitive (educational) psychologists. We illustrate that the social context in which the ideas of Soviet educational psychologists emerged is very important for our understanding of them.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)302-313
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of instructional psychology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1992


    • mental action, sociohistorical theory, internalization, zone of proximal development, Vygotsky


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