Distributed Cognition as an Instructional Framework


Numerous claims have been made that the computer, when used as an intellectual partner, has the potential to enhance learning (Salomon, 1993), and even transcend the boundaries of human information processing (Pea, 1985). This 'intellectual partnership' however, is an elusive concept, one that has rarely been documented and only superficially defined.

The notion of 'partnership' implies teamwork where the task of learning something is distributed between the student, the computer or any other tool that facilitates the learning process. When learning is distributed, cognition is not solely an individual pursuit, but rather is shared amongst resources found within the learning environment (Pea, 1993). A type of communal milieu is developed within which students, together with other students and resources, construct new knowledge and understandings.

While comprehensive discussions about distributed cognition have provided us with insights into the value of this phenomenon, few have addressed what it actually looks like as an instructional model. If this construct can facilitate effective use of computerised cognitive tools then the question remains, how do we do it?

The following paper attempts to address this question and reports the findings from the first stage of a PhD study that examined the fundamental characteristics of a distributed learning environment. These findings have emerged from the literature and from the subsequent implementation of a proposed framework within a tertiary learning context.


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