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Giyoo Hatano

Giyoo Hatano
The University of the Air

A Neo-Vygotskian Approach to Collaborative Learning

Individuals engaging in a collective activity can solve problems and acquire pieces of knowledge without difficulty that they seem to encounter when they engage in an essentially solitary activity.  This successful and competent collaborative performance and learning is usually attributed to socio-cultural constraints operating in the activity: the individuals select an alternative from their behavioral and conceptual repertories that is in accordance with social and cultural constraints, and, thanks to these constraints, they can find effective procedures and apt interpretations promptly in most cases.

Although this notion of socio-cultural constraints in individual cognition is powerful, any analysis based on it must be individualistic.  This is because individuals remain individuals in this formulation: the notion assumes that, though people influence others as well as are influenced, they never form a coalition, in other words, they do not construct collective understanding as a product of a series of negotiations. 

A more adequate strategy for investigating the process of collaborative learning would be a two-level analysis of activity, that is, to conceptualize the target phenomenon of individual cognition in a socio-cultural context as a collective or intermental process, as well as to specify what occurs in the intramental process of each individual as reflecting this intermental process.  Extending the Vygotskian conception of "the zone of proximal development," I propose to describe this process as (1) the production of something collective or shared among the participants in the intersection of their negotiable zones, and (2) the individual incorporation of this "something" for generating, elaborating and revising his/her knowledge.  I will present a few exemplary studies of collaborative learning using the two-level analysis of collective activity.


Giyoo Hatano is a professor of psychology and learning sciences at the Human Development & Education Program of the University of the Air, where he moved in April 2001 from Keio University.  Most of his recent research has been concerned with conceptual development, expertise, and literacy/numeracy acquisition.  He is an editorial board member of more than ten journals (including Cognition, Cognitive Development, Developmental Science, European Journal of Psychology of Education, Human Development, International Journal of Educational Research, International Journal of Mathematical Thinking and Learning, Journal of Learning Sciences, Journal of Mathematical Behavior, Learning and Instruction, and Mind, Culture and Activity).  He was elected as a foreign associate of National Academy of Education (U.S.) in 1992, and given Award for Outstanding Contribution to Educational Psychology 1998 by International Association of Applied Psychology, Division of Educational, Instructional and School Psychology.   He gave an invited address at the International Congress of Psychology, International Congress of Applied Psychology and the meeting of the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development in recent years.