The conceptualisation of cognitive tools in learning and teachnology: A review

Azar Pakdaman-Savoji, John Nesbit, Natalia Gajdamaschko


The term cognitive tool has been used in many areas of academic specialisation, where it has taken on multiple connotations. In this historical and systematic review, we investigate the conceptualisation of cognitive tools in the learning sciences and educational technology. First, the theory of cognitive tools vis-à-vis learning and development is traced from Vygotsky and Soviet psychology through to its use in current educational technology and learning design. Second, we present a systematic review of cognitive tools in peer-reviewed research literature. We found the term cognitive tool was often used vaguely or with extreme generality. When used more specifically, it referred to communication methods such as visualisations, metaphors, symbols, and hypermedia; or interactive interfaces and environments such as templates, databases, simulations, games, and collaborative media. We offer a definition of software-based cognitive tools founded on the attributes of representation, interactivity, and distributed cognition, which commonly feature in the work of influential theorists; and we explain implications of the definition for designing, evaluating, and researching learning technologies.


cognitive tool; culture; mindtool; educational technology

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