Uploaded on December 28, 2005 by Tolka Rover

What is Distributed Cognition?

At this point, because of my thesis, I have read countless material on distributed cognition. I think many explanations make it harder to understand that it needs to be. First of all lets define cognition: the ability to remember, think, and reason; the faculty of knowing. So distributed cognition, simply put, is the notion that cognition is not confined by what is inside one person’s brain. Instead, it is distributed across many things, such as other people, artifacts and the environment. Meaning, we don’t just learn in our heads, we talk to others, experience things in our environment, and use tools such as a paper and pencil to write out a math problem. Edwin Hutchins developed the theory in the mid 1980s. His pivotal work appears in his book: Cognition in the Wild. A great example of distributed cognition is the navigation of a large ship–many people and systems come together to navigate collectively. Not one person alone could navigate the ship–you really need the collective.

Why is this Interesting?

The reason this is interesting is because it gives us a framework, or lens through which to analyze cognition that focuses (unit of analysis) on the system as a whole, rather than the individual. Using distributed cognition to analyze microblogs means we look at the microblog system as a whole versus each individual’s experience with it.

Reading Minds and Learning through Microblogs

It becomes even more fascinating to think of cognition as distributed through microblogs because micoblogs allow us to almost “see into each others brains” as we post our streams of consciousness. Therefore, I may be following someone who posts something I may be interested in, they don’t know I am interested, they just post it as they use the microblog to post their thoughts, but I see it and can then engage with that person or just take the information and apply it to something I am doing or just ponder how interesting it is. It is like we are peering into each others thoughts through microblogs–something we have never done before microblogs came along. More importantly, by following people on microblogs we are learning even faster and more frequently than ever before, as we follow these frequent streams of consciousness we are, in a sense, connecting our brains.–like a collective intelligence (borg brain for all you Star Trek followers). “We define collective intelligence (to distinguish it from other forms) as natural or constructed designs where individuals share things with others and that lead to a better performance of the group and its individuals.” Edutech Wiki

Who you Follow Matters when you Follow TO LEARN

Meaningful learning can only happen if the people we follow are tweeting things other than the fact that they just arrived at the airport… This is my biggest hangup with the way MOST people use microblogs. I found a list of CEOs to follow once and I thought–wow, how great to read these great people’s posts, these leaders of leaders–oh what I will learn. Well I ended up unfollowing most of them because their updates were not thought provoking at all. I don’t care if you are petting your cat. I care about the challenges you are facing, the solutions you are creating–that is what I can learn from. I want updates that make me think–that help me learn.

Why do I care about all this? Because my research is in microblogs and how they can help us learn day to day (as opposed to an extension of a classroom).

Dcog fascinated me so much, that I started looking at some other theories that dcog was based on, and that can help me with my research question above… more in the next entry