Abstract: Symbolic technologies, hybrid minds and communities as sources of learning

Symbolic technologies, hybrid minds and communities as sources of learning

Roger Säljö

In recent decades the traditional conception of learning as a purely cognitive phenomenon, internal to the mind of the individual, has been challenged by more situated perspectives. In the latter, learning is construed as emerging through participation in collective practices and through exposure and adaptation to the tools, social roles and established routines for handling problems of communities. In the former conception, learning is described in terms of conceptual change, the acquisition of procedural or declarative knowledge etc., while in the latter perspective learning is understood in terms of how individuals manage to attune to the networks of knowledge relevant to a community/practice, and how they appropriate the habits, in the Deweyan sense, of that community. Some of the core assumptions of the latter conception are that knowing is distributed between people, and between people and cultural tools, and that as humans we are uniquely adapted to engage in what the evolutionary psychologist Merlin Donald refers to as “mind-sharing.”  It is argued that this shift from knowledge to knowing, and towards a more interactionist and distributed perspective on learning (and other human activities such as remembering, problem-solving and so on), may be understood against the background of the rapid development of our knowledge base, the changing forms of collaboration and the increasing sophistication of cultural tools, i.e. symbolic technologies.