Download Situated Learning and Distributed Cognition

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the workof artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts

Michael Tomasello wikipedia , lookup

Lev Vygotsky wikipedia , lookup

N. Artemeva
Winter 2002
Situated Learning and Distributed Cognition
Theories of situated learning and distributed cognition which perceive learning and
knowing as context-specific social processes and cognition as being socially shared
represent a powerful model for explaining genre knowledge and learning (e. g.,
Engestrom & Middleton, 1996; Freedman & Adam, 1996; Hutchins, 1995; Lave &
Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 1990; Salomon, 1993).
Fundamental to these studies is the perception of learning and knowing as social. This
perception is based on the Vygotskian understanding of higher mental functions in the
individual as being derived from social life (Wertsch, 1991). Central to the literature on
situated cognition are the activity theory notions that learning and knowing are contextspecific ("there is no activity that is not situated" [Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 33]); that
learning is active and is accomplished through process of coparticipation; and that
cognition is socially shared. Common to RGS, AT, and the field of situated learning is an
emphasis on the social as primary (Freedman & Adam, 2000).
The emphasis that Vygotsky and his school placed on activity, on person-in-activity, and
on mediation through socio-cultural tools such as language is central for the concept of
learning as situated activity (situated learning) as well as for modern understandings of
genre. As Berkenkotter & Huckin (1995) put it, genres are inherently dynamic rhetorical
structures that can be manipulated according to the conditions of use; therefore, genre
knowledge is best conceptualized as a form of situated cognition embedded in
disciplinary activities.
These notions are deeply rooted in the Vygotskian view of the relationship between
learning and development and his understanding of higher mental functions as
internalized social relationships (Newman & Holzman, 1993, p. 78). Vygotsky developed
his theories on the premise that individual intellectual development of higher mental
processes cannot be understood without reference to the social milieu in which the
individual is embedded and without consideration of the social roots of both the tools for
thinking that novices are learning to use and the social interactions that guide their use of
these tools (Rogoff, 1990, p. 35). Vygotsky claims that symbolic activity is a specific
organizing function basic for the process of tool use and responsible for new forms of
behavior. In this context, he sees language as the most powerful semiotic tool that
mediates human activity.
Discussing Vygotsky's ideas of human activity as mediated through tools, Wertsch
(1991) emphasizes the need to complement Vygotsky's analysis with Bakhtinian notions.
Following Bakhtin (1986), Wertsch stresses the way in which speakers "ventriloquate"
portions or aspects of their social languages in attempting to realize their own speech
The study of interrelations among tools, signs, symbols, and the process of learning
served as the basis for Vygotsky's theory of interaction between learning and
development. As Berkenkotter and Huckin (1995) note, in the Vygotskian paradigm,
instruction and development are held to be inextricably interwoven, dialogical processes.
N. Artemeva
Winter 2002
Investigating the relationship between learning and development, he and his colleagues
found that the notion of what children can do with the assistance of others is a better
indicator of their mental development than what they can do alone. Vygotsky introduced
a new and exceptionally important concept: the zone of proximal development (ZPD).
The zone of proximal development is defined as "the distance between the actual
developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of
potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in
collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). Individual cognitive
change is, therefore, effected by the social. Vygotsky claims that "the state of child's
mental development can be determined only by clarifying its two levels: the actual
developmental level and the zone of proximal development" (1978, p. 87). On this basis
Vygotsky proposes that an essential feature of learning is the creation of zones of
proximal development.
According to Vygotsky, learning leads development. Therefore, in the zone of proximal
development, the learner becomes able to engage in developmental activity with
conscious awareness rather than merely spontaneously. As Newman and Holzman (1993)
express it, "[B]oth his approach and findings are evidence for the social nature of volition
and conscious awareness" (p. 60). Discussing Vygotsky's findings, Newman & Holzman
(1993) state that "[T]he claim that learning takes place in the ZPD is neither a claim
about learning nor about the ZPD. For the ZPD is not a place at all; it is an activity, a
historical unity, the essential socialness of human beings expressed as revolutionary
activity" (p. 79). Rogoff (1990) adds, "With Vygotsky, the cognitive process is shared
between people" (Rogoff, 1990, p. 192).
An activity-based theory of genre knowledge locates our learning of discipline- and
domain-specific genres in the process that Vygotsky described as "socially distributed
cognition," which occurs in the situated activities of a novice under the guidance of an
expert. Genre knowledge is a part of the conceptual tool kit of professionals, linked to
their knowledge of how to use the other tools of their field, such as, for example, the
metallurgist's knowledge of the working of the electron microscope (Berkenkotter &
Huckin, 1995). Any domain-specific knowledge may be considered as “situated
cognition,” that is, the type of knowing and knowledge that are distributed among mind,
body, activity, and culturally organized setting (Medway, 1993, p. 13). Genre knowledge
too can be considered as a form of situated cognition (Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995).
Learning how to understand and manipulate genres in one’s field is essential for both
academic and professional success. Such researchers as, for example, Ede and Lunsford
(1992) and Winsor (1996) have demonstrated that engineering knowledge is constructed
in rhetorical interaction within a professional community.