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Voices of the Global Community


Jeremy Bohonos, IUPUI Community Learning Network

Jeremy Bohonos.jpgIn the September 2012 edition of this publication, NACADA Theory and Philosophy of Advising Commission member Terry Musser advocates for the development of a philosophy of academic advising.  Musser (2012) argues that “when we share the same basic understanding of the underlying theory, it is easier to collaborate on developing strategies, techniques and resources.”  She goes on to propose a constructivist theory of academic advising and points to Crookston’s (1972) theory of “developmental advising” as a starting point.

Crookston’s (1972) theory focuses on the relationship between the student and advisor and also the roles for each. Bloom’s (2008) Appreciative Advising approach also emphasizes the importance of relationships and seeking holistic understandings of students.  These can be complemented nicely by an understanding of Vygotsky’s (1978) “Zone of Proximal Development” theory, as well as by Dewey’s (1938) emphasis on personal experience. 

Vygotsky (1978) believed that each student operates within a range of ability and that educators would best facilitate learning by presenting students with work that challenges without overwhelming them. If work is too easy the student will be bored, while if the work is too difficult the student will not have the intellectual tools necessary to learn anything from attempting the work. Vygotsky’s work focused on learning and cognitive development in children; however his insights can be successfully adapted and applied to both traditional and non-traditional college students.

Advisors see the practical implications of Vygotsky’s theory every day. His theories underpin the many university degree structures and prerequisite systems. They are probably easiest to see at work in mathematics and hard sciences. Most schools have structures in place that require certain prerequisites before taking more advanced classes. A good advisor would never dream of putting a student in calculus who needed to remediate algebra, and most prerequisite systems prevent those types of obvious errors. As useful as prerequisite requirements are, they cannot protect against all eventualities. A good academic advisor, informed by Vygotsky’s theory, should be proactive in working with students to assess readiness for particular classes. As important as it is that advisors help ensure students are prepared for the courses they enroll in, it is also important that advisors help students to find challenging electives.

Students often come to advisors for help when they feel they are ready for a particular course, but are blocked from registration because they do not have the prerequisite. While it is ultimately a faculty decision to allow exceptions to prerequisite systems, advisors who are informed by Vygotsky’s theory may recognize a student’s potential for success in a certain course, and encourage the student to self-advocate to be allowed to register. These situations are probably most common with transfer students who have taken equivalent coursework at a different institution. In these circumstances advisors may want to inform the student on procedures to request an equivalency waiver.

John Dewey (1938), in his work Experience and Education, emphasized the importance that previous experience and prior knowledge play in the development of new understanding. Kincanon (2009) advocated an approach to advising that accounted for cultural as well as personal experiences. This model can be complemented by a reading of Dewey. Advisors should consider a student’s previous coursework as well as life experiences when providing academic guidance. Taking the time to understand the life experiences of adult learners is particularly important (Bohonos, 2013). Understanding students’ cultures, communities, extracurricular pursuits, and employment goals all allow advisors to help students formulate the best possible programs of study for holistic educational development. Understanding the importance of past experience in generating interest and in facilitating academic success can help advisors skillfully address many student questions. For example, students who make tedious requests for help finding “easy” classes can be directed to reflect on positive learning experiences they have had in the past and on topics that hold intrinsic interest to them. If students can identify areas of interest and experience the advisor should be able to help find courses that will both challenge and engage students.  

Dewey’s emphasis on experience and Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development” can be integrated seamlessly into academic advising practice and theory. The two perspectives complement each other nicely and when combined provide advisors with tools to account for both a student’s academic preparedness and the context of his or her broader life. Each theory also squares nicely with the theoretical groundwork laid by Musser (2012), who challenged the advising community to build on the constructivist foundation of advising theory. The inclusion of Vygotsky and Dewey in the theory construction process is an important step because of the influence and legacy that each theorist has exerted on the field of education. The creation of a philosophy of academic advising, however, is only in its beginning stages and should be continued through both the integration of other important theorists, and through philosophical innovation in the field of academic advising.              

Jeremy Bohonos
Career and Academic Advisor
IUPUI Community Learning Network
Center for Adult and Lifelong Learning
[email protected]

Bloom, J. (2008). Moving on from college. In Gordon, V.N., Habley, W.R., Grites, T.J. and Associates (Eds), Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook, Second Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bohonos, J. (2013). Appreciating the experiences and expertise of adult students. Journal of College Orientation and Transition, (20)2.

Musser, T. (2012, September). Theoretical Reflections: Constructivist foundations for academic advising. Academic Advising Today, (35)3. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Theoretical-Reflections-Constructivist-Foundations-for-Academic-Advising.aspx

Crookston, B. B. (1972). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. Journal of College Student Personnel, 13, 12-17.

Dewey, J. (1938).  Experience and education.  New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kincanon, K. (2009). Translating the transformative: Applying transformational and self-authorship pedagogy to advising undecided/exploring students. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Transformational-Theory-in-Academic-Advising-.aspx

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological process. London: Harvard University Press.

Cite this article using APA style as: Bohonos, J. (2013, June). Key theories of Lev Vygosky and John Dewey: Implications for academic advising theory. Academic Advising Today, 36(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2013 June 36:2


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.