As an education professional, I’ve always been fascinated by how learning occurs, especially in contexts that extend beyond traditional classrooms. Recently, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the transformative power of scaffolding and the zone of proximal development (ZPD) in a situation outside of academia: relearning to drive. 

After over a decade of driving without incident, I suddenly found myself grappling with crippling anxiety and panic attacks whenever I ventured onto high-speed roads. It was a jarring blow to my confidence and a stark reminder of the complexities of human learning and behaviour. Seeking help, I turned to a specialist driving instructor for nervous drivers, whose approach would prove to be a masterclass in educational psychology. 

Scaffolding for confidence

From the outset, my instructor recognised that traditional methods of teaching driving would not suffice. Instead of immediately placing me behind the wheel, he adopted a scaffolding approach, gradually building my skills and confidence from a solid foundation. Much like constructing a building, scaffolding in education involves providing temporary support structures to assist learners in acquiring new knowledge or skills until they can perform independently (Rannikmäe, Holbrook, & Soobard, 2020). 

In my case, the initial lessons were spent parked on quiet residential roads, far removed from the intimidating highways that had become my nemesis. Rather than starting with the most challenging task of driving, my instructor took the time to deconstruct my anxiety, demonstrating how my posture and grip on the wheel were directly impacting my perception and control of the vehicle. Through patient guidance and expert insights, he helped me find my optimal driving position and taught me stress release techniques to employ when nerves threatened to overwhelm me. 

This initial phase of instruction perfectly exemplifies the essence of scaffolding. By breaking down the complex task of driving into manageable components and providing tailored support, my instructor created a safe learning environment where I could gradually build my skills and confidence. Much like the sturdy scaffold surrounding a building under construction, his guidance provided stability and reassurance as I began my journey to reclaiming my driving prowess. 

Scaffolding within zone of proximal development

Central to the scaffolding process is the concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), a term coined by the renowned psychologist Lev Vygotsky. The ZPD represents the sweet spot between what a learner can achieve independently and what they can accomplish with the guidance and support of a ‘more knowledgeable other’. It’s the stretch zone where learning flourishes and new skills are honed through meaningful interaction and collaboration (Eun, 2019). 

Concentric circles diagram, with areas labelled from inner to outer, for what: a learner can do alone, with help (Zone of Proximal Development), and cannot do.

In the context of relearning to drive, my instructor expertly navigated my ZPD, gradually increasing the complexity of tasks while ensuring that they remained within my reach. Starting with simple exercises like adjusting mirrors and familiarising myself with the vehicle’s controls, we steadily progressed to navigating quiet streets before eventually confronting my fears head-on by tackling the dreaded highways. Each step of the way, my instructor provided just the right amount of support and encouragement, pushing me to venture beyond my comfort zone without overwhelming me. 

Scaffolding emphasises empowering learners to take an active role in their own learning journey. Rather than spoon-feeding information or relying solely on rote memorisation, scaffolding encourages learners to engage in authentic, hands-on experiences that foster deep understanding and skill development. In the context of driving, this meant not only mastering the technical aspects of operating a vehicle but also cultivating the confidence and resilience needed to navigate the unpredictable realities of the road. 

A five-step staircase chart illustrating the progression of driving skills from basic controls and comfort to mastery and independence.

Scaffolding and ZPD in university contexts

In university education, the principles of scaffolding and the zone of proximal development (ZPD) are particularly effective. Educators can foster deep learning by structuring programs, subjects, or live sessions to progress from simple to complex. This involves designing activities that build on prior knowledge and gradually increase in difficulty, allowing students to develop their skills, understanding, and confidence incrementally. Providing plenty of opportunities for feedback from a ‘more knowledgeable other,’ such as a teacher or peer, aligns with the ZPD, where students learn best with tasks slightly beyond their current ability but achievable with guidance. Timely feedback and assessment opportunities enable students to reflect on their learning and identify areas for improvement. The LD Quality Framework provides several best practices on sequencing activities (Standard 3.3), drawing on prior knowledge (Standard 3.6) and providing effective feedback (Standard 2.6). 

Reflecting on my journey from anxious driver to confident road warrior, I realise the profound impact of scaffolding and the ZPD on learning. My instructor’s balance of support and challenge helped me overcome my fears and reclaim control. This experience illustrates how educational psychology can transform mindsets. By tailoring instruction to meet learners where they are and guiding them towards mastery, educators can support learners on the road to success. 


ChatGPT 4.0 was used in the writing of this blog post in the following ways: 

  • Writing more concise alternative text for image accessibility 
  • Enhancing coherence and cohesion in the introductory and concluding paragraphs 


Eun, B. (2019). The zone of proximal development as an overarching concept: A framework for synthesizing Vygotsky’s theories. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51(1), 18–30. 

OpenAI. (2023). ChatGPT (May 24 version) [Large language model]. 

Postgraduate Learning Design Team. (2024). PGLD quality framework. SharePoint. Retrieved 20 May, from  

Rannikmäe, M., Holbrook, J., Soobard, R. (2020). Social Constructivism—Jerome Bruner. In: Akpan, B., Kennedy, T.J. (eds) Science Education in Theory and Practice. Springer Texts in Education. Springer, Cham. 

Image by upklyak on Freepik.

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