I’m deeply steeped in the cognitive sciences, owing to a Ph.D. in cognitive psych. Fortuitively, this was at the time my advisor was creating the cognitive science program (and more). So I’ve a bias. Yet I also have a fair bit of empirical evidence that taking a cognitive perspective accomplishes things that are hard to do in other ways. So let me make the case that the cognitive perspective is more than just a useful one, but arguably a necessary one.
I‘ll start by reflecting back on something I wrote before, about virtual world affordances. At the time, platforms like Second Life were touting the advantages of an immersive navigable world. Of course, the promises were all-encompassing: everything would move to virtual worlds. In retrospect, it didn‘t eventuate. Why? I argue it’s because the cognitive overhead of virtual worlds means that there has to be a sustained value proposition, and that came from when you truly need 3D immersion and social.
Similarly, when I wrote my books on games and mobile, I focused on the cognitive impacts. The first reason was because technology was changing so fast that anything hardware-specific would be out of date before the book was published. The second is because our brains don‘t change that fast, so what works will work regardless of the technology .
Note that our understanding of cognition has changed. We‘re now in a â€˜post-cognitive‘ era, where the notion that all our formal, logical thinking is done in our heads is wrong. Research is showing that we‘re far more â€˜situated‘ than we think, and distributed as well. That includes distributed across external representations and other people! It’s very contextual, and it’s not all in our heads!
So these days, when I look at things, I try to look with a cognitive (ok, post-cognitive) perspective. I look to see how things align, or not, with how our brains work. When I evaluate learning technologies, for instance, I look to see how well they do things like provide meaningful practice: active and contextualized. You can also see when particular technologies (e.g. VR/AR/AI) will be valuable, and not. Similarly, when I look at workplace change proposals, I look at how well they reflect our mechanisms for adapting to change.
I‘ll argue that these perspectives are valuable. You can quickly see why most training doesn‘t work, cut through hype from vendors, create explanations about why myths are mythtaken, etc. You can save money, be more effective, etc when you align with how our brains work. I‘ve talked before about how there are gaps. This is the flip side, how to avoid those gaps, and do better. In short, you‘re better able to assist your organization in being more effective (and efficient).
That‘s why I‘m pleased that I am able to put these basics into the learning science book, and workshops. It‘s possible to get better at this sort of perspective. It‘s also possible to get it on tap as needed. However, it does take both the cognitive understanding and the experience in applying it. So, how‘s your cognitive perspective?
On a side note, I want to encourage you to consider my workshop at DevLearn on Make It Meaningful, a full day exploring how we make learning experiences deeply engaging (adding to effectiveness). This is also the topic of my online workshop through the Learning Development Accelerator. This is, to me, the most important topic to complement learning science. (Available as a book and workshop. ;) In both cases, I’m trying to help us stop making boring courses that people want to avoid, and suggest that this can be done for most any topic. It also leads to more effective learning outcomes! Hope to see you at one! (Of course, if your organization would like your own private version, let me know!)
Christine Bernat says
I like your emphasis on context as we know it is very important to learning. However, you mention moving “beyond cognition, as if pure “cognition/knowledge” is not effective, perhaps boring for learning. I was wondering if you have ever considered that sometimes too much context has also been noted as leading to inferior learning? Are you familiar with Howard Gardner’s book “The Unschooled Mind”? In this book, Gardner states that learning knowledge outside (of school) interferes with conceptual knowledge. He cited experiments of Math and Physics students who learned only in context. They scored well on exams but could not transfer their knowledge to new problems in unfamiliar contexts. He stated the importance of learning in a pure “knowledge experience” such as in a Newtonian simulated world. Being that so much of ID consists of audience analysis, how much is pure knowledge taught or emphasized? I know when I design learning for engineers/programmers, they want to know every exhausting detail about the principles of the device and aren’t very interested in the contexts to which the device is used. Shouldn’t the degree of context vs. conceptual principles be weighed when designing learning?
Christine, I look at the work of David Jonassen, who found better transfer and retention from problem-based learning. Also the work of Bransford et al on anchored cognition. I haven’t read ‘the unschooled mind’, but I think it has to do with the facilitation of transfer out of practical experiences (and managing cognitive load). I think you want to both develop the principles/models, but also support transferring them to concrete problems. Also, choosing appropriate contexts to facilitate appropriate transfer. Some folks (e.g. those self-selected to be engineers?) may be able to succeed because they’re good at transferring to concrete contexts, but it’s not the way to bet.
Rich James says
Hi Clark. We may be post-cognitive in our scientific understanding but I think most of the field of education (writ large) was barely ever cognitive. We still have to work within the principles and cognitive architecture that support formation and retention of memory and meaning. I see contextually driven systems of meaning and cognitive systems as overlapping and interdependent. Exploiting the cognitive can help prevent the contextual from leading us astray.
Kelly Martin says
It seems that this issue of context/conceptual, practical/theoretical is one about finding “that sweet spot” between keeping learning and meaning situated and familiar but also challenging, constructing a bridge or a narrative between the familiar and familiar, the concept and the action. My background is both in ID and in literary translation studies, and I often write about the connections between the two (or really, the connections between learning and translating).
I will not bore you all with the nuances…but part of translating prose poetry, for example, is understanding the situated or the “small picture” and the higher-order concerns or the “larger picture”: the poet’s life, background; the political, social, artistic, etc. climate that shaped the poem; the intricacies and logic of the source language; the affordances and constraints of the genre; the poet’s style and body of work; and the many other conditions, complexities, etc.). The literary translator must also consider all of these factors, elements, or otherwise of the target language, culture, reader(s), and so on.
In short, translation proper is concerned with the various layers and types of contexts and with constructing bridges between them. These parallels to learning, teaching, and design may not seem salient (mostly due to my poor explication here), but I hope the introduction of this topic provides some food for thought. ~Kelly
Kelly, I do think that the ability to navigate levels is important (was just reading a paper to that topic), and it’s part of truly ‘situating’ thinking. Thanks for weighing in with that perspective.