In the wake of the cognitive revolution, learning theorists and researchers treated learning and knowing as if they were self-contained processes taking place in the confines of individual minds (Fodor, 1975; Newell & Simon, 1972). Intelli- gence, giftedness, talent, ability, and cognition were also considered features (or possessions) of individual minds. This line of thinking, rooted in Cartesian dualism (Descartes, 1637/1978), is founded on the separation of the learner from the learning context, effectively isolating the body from its mind, the self from its world, the content from its context, and ability from those situations in which one is competent
Educators too have fallen victim to a circular logic: Tradi- tional, entity-based theories, placed knowledge in the head of the learner, which led to the creation of educational systems that focused on transmitting content into individual minds. However, in spite of the overarching influence of Cartesian dualism on educational thought, many contemporary thinkers from a variety of domains describe knowing not simply as a psychological construct existing in the head but as an interaction (or what Dewey, 1938, referred to as a transaction) of individuals and physical and social situations. Central to these perspectives and to the argument being advanced in this thesis is the belief that:
A clearer understanding of human cognition would be achieved if studies were based on the concept that cognition is distributed among individuals, that knowledge is socially constructed through collaborative efforts to achieve shared objectives in cultural surroundings, and that information is processed between individuals and the tools and artifacts pro- vided by culture. (Salomon, 1993, p. I, italics in original)
From this perspective, knowledge (or knowing about) does not reside in the head of the learner, but is best conceptualized as a collection of functional relations distributed across persons and particular contexts through which individuals appear knowledgeably skillful. Recognition of the interdependence of individuals and their environments is clearly evident in ecological psychology (Gibson, 1979/1986; Turvey & Shaw, 1995). Ecological psychology is based on the premise that perception is a property of an ecosystem, not an individual, and is co-determined through the individual–environment interaction.
In Brown et al.’s (1989) seminal piece on situativity theories and the culture of learning, they advanced the belief that learning is always situated and progressively developed through situated activity. They contended that learning involves more than acquiring a set of self-contained entities. It actually involves build- ing a contextualized appreciation of these entities as tools, as well as for the situations through which these tools have value. The focus of much of my work has been advancing the warrants and productive translations of these core assumptions into designs that help all learners believe that the time they invest as learning will allow them to do great things.
As a researcher and an educator, I have been engaged in an epistemological reflection regarding human learning and development. As such, my research has primarily been concerned with the building as well as the testing of the crucial components of a new paradigm of human development, namely, the ecological paradigm. This new model stands in sharp contrast to the traditional Cartesian paradigm which lies at the very root of conventional pedagogy. A key focus of my work with games is because in a well-designed game what you know, what you do, and who you become are all interrelated.
- Curriculum-Based Ecosystems: Supporting Knowing from an Ecological Perspective
- Smart People or Smart Contexts? Cognition, Ability and Talent in an Age of Situated Approaches to Knowing and Learning
- From Practice Fields to Communities of Practice
- Principles of Self Organization: Learning as Participation in Autocatakinetic Systems
- Situationally Embodied Curriculum: Formalisms and Contexts
About Sasha A. Barab PhD
Sasha Barab is a Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, where he co-founded and serves as the Executive Director of the Center for Games and Impact.
Dr. Barab is an internationally recognized Learning Scientist who holds the Pinnacle West Chair of Education, and who has researched, designed, and published extensively on the challenges and opportunities of using games for impact.