In my last post, I talked about situated cognition. A second, and related, cognitive revelation is that thinking is distributed between our heads and the world. That is, the model that it all occurs between the ears doesn’t recognize that we incorporate external representations are part of our processing. Hutchins, in his Cognition in the Wild, documented a variety of ways that our thinking is an artefact of our tools and our models.
So, for example, navigation typically involves maps as well as thinking. Business reasoning is typically accompanied by tools like a spreadsheet. We use diagrams, tables, graphs, charts, and more to help us understand situations better. And we are unlikely to be able to do things like long division without paper and pencil or a calculator. This means that putting everything in the head isn’t necessary. And this is just what we should be doing! Designing for the right distribution of tasks between world and mind(s) is the optimal solution.
We know that it’s difficult to get things in the head (how hard is it to learn, say, to drive), and therefore undesirable anyway. It’s about designing solutions that put into the world what can be in the world, and then putting into the head what has to be in the head. This includes performance support in a variety of ways. It also should address what we consider to be worth training.
When we want to optimize performance, we should recognize that we need a bigger picture. We need to consider the person & tools, or people & tools, as a whole entity when it comes to achieving the end goal. This is also true for learning. Our reflective representations are part of our thinking process. So, too, our collaborative representations.
We are better thinkers and learners when we consciously consider tools, and their availability in the ecosystem. In fact, our ecosystem is the tools and people we have ‘to hand’, accessible in or from the workflow. And elsewhere, in our times for reflection, and discussion. So, have you optimized your, and your organization’s thinking and learning toolset?