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Developing People Using Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding

The 70-20-10 Learning Model

The 70-20-10 learning model is frequently used by many organisations to develop people. What the model says is that approximately 70% of the employees at the workplace happen in an experiential way through learning-by-doing or On-the-Job Training, 20% of the learning happens through social learning from observing, shadowing others or being coached by others. 10% of the learning occurs through acquiring knowledge via formal training such as attending training workshops, conferences or seminars. Leaders should provide a good mixture of experiential, social and formal learning opportunities to optimise the learning and development of their people.

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

However, learning and development is not just picking development activities from the 70-20-10 learning model. Leaders frequently grappled with the challenge of actually understanding the mechanics of developing people in a purposeful manner supported by learning science. Let me introduce the theory of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) by Lev Vygotsky and concept of scaffolding the learning to help leaders be a master people developer.

Applying to people development, the Zone of Proximal Development is the space between what a worker can do without assistance and what a worker can do with expert supervision or collaboration with more capable peers.

The diagram below illustrates the concept of ZPD.

Zone of Proximal Development | Performance Management

For example, there was a documentary on what an apprentice goes through to become a master sushi chef. The documentary showed the intensive, intentional and instructional approach of the learning process of an aspiring sushi chef. Using the ZPD theory, the learner will perform independent tasks such as cleaning the kitchen and general work. The ZPD in this example, is the making of the sushi rice under the expert guidance and ever watchful eyes of the master chef to ensure the required standard.

An example of beyond the ZPD is slicing the fish.

The master chef intentionally scaffolds the learning process by identifying simple tasks for the learner to perform such as grating ginger, slicing green onions and learning about the fishes.

This scaffolding process helps to build muscle memory, confidence, patience and resilience – important elements of the learning process.

Then the learner proceeds to slightly more complex tasks of applying their knife skills on other items to hone continuously hone their skills.

All these learning occur under the guidance of the master chef.

Advantages of Using ZPD and Scaffolding

  1. Using ZPD and scaffolding, leaders can first break down the job role or work tasks into simple tasks that the staff is able to perform independently and complex tasks that require direct guidance from experts or peers to help the staff ‘cross’ the Zone.

  2. The use of demonstration, instructing, role modeling, practice and just-in-time feedback would be critical to help the learner in the Zone.

  3. Scaffolding can be applied in the form of providing checklists, job aids and coaching by managers and supervisors to help the learner systematically move from simple to complex tasks.

The learning must be sequenced in a step-by-step manner with spaced practice i.e. doing a few steps, repeating again with a short break by engaging in other non-related activities and then coming back to start the sequence from the beginning and progressively adding more steps and then applying the same pause to help improve long term learner memory recall.

If you find this useful, check out our Performance Management tools and how we can help managers and organizations manage appraisals to align, inspire and empower high performance.


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