Learning with computers: Generating insights into the development of cognitive tools using cultural historical activity theory

Seng-Chee Tan


Using computers as cognitive tools or mindtools has created impact in education since their introduction in the 1990s. One main characteristic is the notion of learning with computers as intellectual partners: engaging learners in higher level thinking while taking away the lower level cognitive load such as computing and digital storage. In recent years, the element of social interactions has been integrated, leading to the development of social cognitive tools or social mindtools. However, the differences between and underlying values of these applications may not be apparent. This article applies cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) to analyse these developments so as to generate insights into the nuanced differences among various applications, including the roles of computers in distributed cognition within an activity system. CHAT can be applied to analyse contradictions within and beyond an activity system, which can help to identify opportunities for innovation and enhancement to the system.


mindtools; cognitive tools; learning with computers

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.4848

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