, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 207-256
Date: 05 Jan 2007

Reframing research on learning with technology: in search of the meaning of cognitive tools

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Previous research and development with cognitive tools has been limited by an inadequate conceptualization of the complexity underlying their nature and affordances for supporting learning and performance. This paper provides a new perspective on cognitive tools through the lens of the theories of distributed cognition and expertise. The learner, tool, and activity form a joint learning system, and the expertise in the world should be reflected not only in the tool but also in the learning activity within which learners make use of the tool. This enhanced perspective is used to clarify the nature of cognitive tools and distinguish them from other types of computer tools used in learning contexts. We have classified cognitive tools considering how expertise is classified: domain-independent (general) cognitive tools, domain-generic cognitive tools, and domain-specific cognitive tools. The implications are presented in reference to research, development, and practice of cognitive tools. The capabilities of cognitive tools should be differentiated from those of the human, but regarded as part of the system of expertise. Cognitive tools should be accompanied by appropriate learning activities, and relevant learner performance should then be assessed in the context of tool use.