Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory explains how the environment influences the development of learners. According to Bronfenbrenner, the environment can be divided into five different levels, that is, the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem and the chronosystem (Onwuegbuzie, Collins, & Frels, 2013). The microsystem is the environment closest to the learner and can include the home and school environment. In this environment, the way that the learner treats others affects the way that others in the environment treat the learner, that is, relationships are bi-directional. The microsystem has the most influence on the learning process of a learner. The mesosystem refers to the interactions between different aspects of the microsystem. These interactions influence the development of a learner indirectly. For example, interactions between a child’s parents and his teachers could affect the way that the teachers treat the child. The exosystem is the third level, and it refers to aspects in which the learner does not participate directly but which in turn affect the learner’s learning process. For example, a parent receiving a promotion at work could result in the child changing schools. The fourth level is the macrosystem, and it refers to the cultural environment of the learner. This environment could have either a positive or a negative effect on the learner’s development. This includes the political, economic and cultural environment.
Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development focuses on development in children (Piaget, 2013). Furthermore, the theory focuses on the entire development process rather than specializing in the learning process. The theory, therefore, seeks to explain how an infant develops into a child and then into an individual. Piaget hypothesized that development involved the progressive reorganization of the mental processes of the child resulting from environmental experiences and biological maturation. In the learning process, the children develop an understanding of the environment. Subsequently, through life experiences, the children discover that discrepancies exist between what they know and new factors in the environment.
Piaget’s cognitive development theory has three basic component, that is, schemas, adaptation process and the stages of development. “Schemas are a cohesive, repeatable action sequence possessing component actions that are tightly interconnected and governed by a core meaning” (Piaget, 2013). Schemas are therefore the building blocks of knowledge Children organize new information into schemas according to how the information is related. Adaptation processes refer to how children deal with new information. For example, the child can assimilate information into an already existing schema or expand the boundaries of a schema to accommodate new information where such information does not fit the existing schemas. The third component is the stages of development According to Piaget; these stages help an individual develop a model of the world. The mental model functions within specific rules as observed by the child. The model helps the child assimilate new information. Piaget classified the stages into the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage and formal operational stage.
The social development theory developed by Lev Vygotsky emphasizes the importance of learning in the development process. The theory emphasizes that learning is an important prelude to development. The theory lays emphasis on the effects of culture on cognitive development. Unlike Piaget’s theory which emphasizes the universality of development, the social development theory proposes that the stages of development differ from culture to culture as it is the culture that affects the development process. Furthermore, Vygotsky also emphasized the importance of the interactions between biological factors and social factors in determining development and learning. The environment, in this case, affects the way that children think. Furthermore, Vygotsky also emphasizes that development comes about as the children learn to internalize their language.
Vygotsky proposes that children are born with the capacity for intellectual development (McLeod, 2007).. Vygotsky classified these abilities into attention, sensation, perception and memory. These are the basic abilities of a child and through interactions with others in the society; these abilities develop and become more complex. For example, the memory of the children accommodates more information and through the information, the child develops a model of the world around him. As a result, Vygotsky proposes that even those functions that the child learns to perform independently are affected by the child’s social interactions. Learning is, therefore, a prerequisite for development in this manner.

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  • Onwuegbuzie, A. J., Collins, K. M., & Frels, R. K. (2013). Foreword: Using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory to frame quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research. International journal of multiple research approaches, 7(1), 2-8.
  • Piaget, J. (2013). The construction of reality in the child (Vol. 82). Routledge.
  • McLeod, S. (2007). Lev vygotsky. Simply Psychology