Hands on Learning – how we learn using our bodies

Year: 2016

Author: Stevens, Robert

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The enactive view of human cognition starts with the idea that we are action orientated. Our ability to make sense of the world comes from engagement with it, and especially other people. The brain is not a computer locked away inside the skull, representing the external world. Rather, in action, the brain partners with the body, and in particular the hand, and forms a functional unit that engages with the world. Brain, body and world function in a holistic way. Cognition is not a top-down regulation of movement from brain to body to world; nor is it a bottom up emergence – body to brain. Rather cognition is an integrated system of world, body and brain – a single integrated cognitive system. Human cognition is shaped by our anatomy, particularly our hands. We conceive of mind in manual terms – we grasp, apprehend and comprehend, pick up on and hold (in memory).The hand – a sensory and motor organ - is also one of the main ways we learn about the world. Writing a century ago, John Dewey anticipated an enactive view of human cognition. Using Dewey as a discussion partner, and drawing on contemporary discussions of the enactive view, including Colin McGinn, Shaun Gallagher and Daniel Hutto, we will explore the pedagogical implications of the enactive view of cognition, focusing on the hand. The paper illustrates the benefits of educational researchers looking to developments in cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind in reflecting on educational practice.