Preface: Distributed Cognition and Educational Practice

By Karasavvidis, Ilias; Kommers, Piet et al. | Journal of Interactive Learning Research, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Preface: Distributed Cognition and Educational Practice


Karasavvidis, Ilias, Kommers, Piet, Stoyanova, Neli, Journal of Interactive Learning Research


Traditionally, cognition has been treated as residing in the head, as being a property of the individual mind. To a large extent, current psychological and educational practice is founded upon this conception of cognition. Nevertheless, in recent years and in cognitive traditions such as educational psychology and cognitive science it has been advocated that cognition does not reside only in the head. Rather, it is suggested that cognition extends beyond the skin, essentially being distributed along two main dimensions; material and social. Assuming that an individual is performing a certain task, the material dimension of the distribution refers to the incorporation of all kinds of mental and physical artifacts in which cognition is encapsulated. On the other hand, the social dimension of the distribution of cognition refers to the involvement of social others who provide assistance in many ways during task execution by functioning as cognitive resources.

The ideas that relate to the distributed cognition perspective have mainly surfaced over the last decade and have become so popular that the notion of cognition as distributed in commonplace nowadays. Nevertheless, we are not aware of many systematic research efforts to explore, apply, and evaluate distributed cognition ideas. All of the articles in this issue provide an account of cognition as distributed among people and artifacts, present evidence regarding this distribution, and address the implications of this distribution for certain facets of the teaching and learning practice.

In the opening article, Ilias Karasavvidis provides an introduction and overview of the ideas related to the distribution of cognition. Karasavvidis begins with tracing the contemporary image of mind as the locus of all cognition and intelligence back to Plato. This image of the mind as disembodied and disembedded is subsequently discussed in terms of its impact on current psychological and educational practice. The notion of cognition as distributed has proponents in two traditions, cognitive science and educational psychology, and Karasavvidis presents an integrative account of the ideas within each respective tradition. The article continues with a specific reference to cultural-historical psychology and then critically appraises the distribution of cognition ideas in cognitive science and educational psychology so as to highlight similarities and differences. Karasavvidis concludes his article with a discussion of the implications of distributed cognition ideas for the teaching and learning practice by e xamining how the incorporation of a computer tool in the solution of a correlational problem substantially transformed the problem solution.

Mariette de Haan focuses on the cultural nature of guidance models and considers how the distributed cognition perspective can inform them. De Haan begins her article by discussing how non-western learning practices provide certain guidance models that have become a source of inspiration for school reform in the western world. De Haan examines what the distribution of cognition means for models of guidance and argues that treating cognition as socially and materially distributed entails a view of instruction which portrays learning as intertwined with the social and material context within which it takes place. The article continues with a description of a study on Mazahua learning practices which shows that Mazahua people view knowledge as socially distributed and, furthermore, that their guidance model is based on a distributed cognition perspective. In the second part of her article, De Haan examines comparatively distributed cognition, Mazahua shared competence, and cognitive apprenticeship models and de termines that the most salient difference relates to the issue of task authenticity. The article concludes with a discussion of the transformations that nonwestern cultural models of learning undergo when adopted in the western schooling practices. …

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