Expansive Learning, Ecological Cognition, And Significance

Year: 2015

Author: Leonard, Simon, Fitzgerald, Robert

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The papers that follow in this symposium are largely about using emerging technologies in educational settings. The purpose of this paper is to situate what follows within an understanding of learning that builds on cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) and the related work in ecological cognition.

CHAT positions learning as being about acquiring the tools of the learner’s socio-cultural context and growing into the cultural and intellectual life of those around them. The purpose of learning is essentially for this participation, and so the tools acquired through learning only make sense when used for activity or interaction with context. In establishing the new field of ecological cognition, Hutchins reached a similar conclusion when he found the cognitive processes involved in doing work, becoming expert, and in evolving work practices were in fact the same cognitive processes, and argued for an embodied and enacted understanding of cognition and learning. Enacted cognition is located not in the human mind alone, but in the mind-body-world systems with which we interact. An active, embodied and enacted understanding of learning that connects upwards, downwards and sideways stands in contrast to the information processing view of cognition that arguably dominates many parts of contemporary education design.

This paper will argue that the psychological and cognitive concept of activity and enactment are reflected in the empirical educational concept of significance. Significance has been shown as an important part of student learning, although its importance is often ascribed to an improvement in student engagement. Our contention is that significance has importance beyond engagement, and is an active part of the cognitive development. Significant learning can be understood as learning that connects learners with the cultural and intellectual activity of their context, or that makes sense in the mind-body-world systems with which humans work. Such learning will make use of human brains that evolved as sensorimotor coordinators. It will also build learning activities that connect the mind with the world in non-trivial ways and that move beyond calls for ‘learning by doing’ and move towards a greater understanding expert cognitive systems.

As a foundation to the rest of this symposium, this paper will conclude by arguing that emerging technologies can and should be used to support an expansive rather than bureaucratic approach to education. It will further argue that the bureaucratic theory of mind is reified in current approaches to accountability and that an expansive view of learning requires an expansive approach to accounting for the value of education.