Sociocultural theory (see Chapter 3) identified three major classes of mediators interposed between learners and their environment: (1) physical mediators, such as material tools and technologies; (2) symbolic tools, such as signs, languages, and graphic organizers; and (3) human mediators, such as parents, teachers, peers, and other mentors. The learning process, therefore, is rarely immediate. Sociocultural mediators are ubiquitously present in the life of a child, first as a simple tool such as a spoon, with which the child develops motor skills, then as language that becomes a tool of thought, and then as a parent or teacher whose intervention ensures the child's acquisition of material or symbolic actions. From the very beginning children actively interact with the above mediators and with time internalize their actions as their own inner psychological functions.
This perspective, however, differs from that envisioned by Jean Piaget, whose concept of child development was probably the most influential psychological theory in the second half of the 20th century. This is how Piaget (1947/1969, p. 158) describes the interaction between infants and their environment:
…Seen from without, the infant is in the midst of a multitude of relations which forerun the signs, values and rules of subsequent social life. But from the point of view of the subject himself, the social environment is not necessarily distinct from the physical environment…People are seen as pictures like all the pictures which constitute reality…The infant reacts to them in the same way as to the objects, namely with gestures that happen to cause them to continue interesting actions, and with various cries, but there is still no exchange of thought, since at this level the child does not know thought; nor consequently, is there any profound modification of intellectual structures by the social life surrounding him.