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Hutchins’ (1995) definition of 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. A great example of distributed cognition, as described by Hutchins (1995), 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.

In any organization, it is the collective driving it forward. Even though there may be individual contributors, no one person alone can help a company, for example, meet its revenue goals. Again, it has to be the collective. It is the “informal communication channels that make work proceed smoothly, synchronized among a group of workers without the need for direct verbal communication” (Norman, 1993, p. 153). In Norman’s (1993) examples this non-verbal communication is observed in person. However, with today’s knowledge workforce being distributed across many locations, observation takes on different forms, like reading Yammer posts. In addition, in many cases, the work doesn’t have to be as closely synchronized as employees would need to be to operate a ship. Yet, at the end of the day, the work product is still that of the collective.

Microblogs offer just this capability: the possibility of “observing” each other’s actions without actually being there, without working closely together. In fact answering the question: “What are you working on?” produces work activity update posts in real time during the day. “…knowing and context are irreducibly co-constituted, and learning is fundamentally connected with and constitutive of the contextual particulars through which it occurs (S. A. Barab & Kirshner, 2001; Cobb & Yackel, 1996)” (Sasha A Barab & Plucker, 2002).

Distributed cognition provides a framework, or lens through which to analyze cognition that focuses (unit of analysis) on the system, rather than the individual (Hutchins, 1995). Cognition is not just distributed within (Minsky, 1986) but also between learners and the objects they use to solve problems (Schwartz, 2008). Therefore, when researching microblogs, focus will be placed on the interaction between individuals and the tool as well as between individuals and other individuals.

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

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(A new TOC link will be inserted weekly until entire research paper is published)

Abstract

Chapter I – INTRODUCTION

Background

Problem Statement

Purpose of the Study

Research Questions

Significance of the Research

Chapter II – LITERATURE REVIEW

Informal Learning

Electronic Performance Support Systems

Microblogs

Theories

Situated Cognition

Distributed Cognition

Communities of Practice

Chapter III – METHODOLOGY

Yammer Functionality

Recruiting Participants

Materials and Procedure

Messages to Recruit Participants

Interview Protocol

Chapter IV – RESULTS AND ANALYSIS

Participant Characteristics

The researcher’s approach to the study

Research question 1: Does using a microblog in the workplace allow employees to become more aware of what each other is doing?

Yammer Experiences

Getting back to: 1. research question: Does using a microblog in the workplace allow employees to become more aware of what each other is doing?

Research question 2: Does the reading of status messages posted on a microblog lead to employees learning something new or receiving assistances with their jobs?

Interactions Because of Yammer

How Did Participants Find Posts that Grabbed their Attention?

Results of Using Yammer

Research question 3: Will the use of microblogs result in people feeling like they are part of communities where they can reach out to each other for assistance?

What Value Yammer Provides

Yammer’s Challenges

CHAPTER V – DISCUSSION, IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Introduction

Discussion of Results

Research question 1: Does using a microblog in the workplace allow employees to become more aware of what each other is doing?

Research question 2: Does the reading of status messages posted on a microblog lead to employees learning something new or receiving assistances with their jobs?

Does reading Yammer posts that prompt participants to reach out to each other contribute to learning and performance?

Does reading Yammer posts contribute to learning and performance when people don’t reach out to each other?

Connections, Learning and Performance Improvement

Research question 3: Will the use of microblogs result in people feeling like they are part of communities where they can reach out to each other for assistance?

Implications

Guidelines on How to Use Yammer to Maximize Its Effectiveness in the Workplace

Recommendations for Future Research

Knowledge Management

Expert Networks

Limitations of Study

Conclusion

References

A-cross-organizational-study

Renata E. Gorman
Teachers College, Columbia University

Abstract

In this day and age when knowledge workers are entering and exiting organizations practically on a daily basis, many organizations struggle with how best to arm their workforce with the knowledge they need to maximize their performance thereby increasing the organizations efficiency and effectiveness. This study investigated whether or not emerging social media tools like microblogs can be used by organizations to foster informal learning, provide performance support and ultimately improve performance through the creation and utilization of communities of practice. The hypothesis was that when participants used the tool to: 1. Post questions, 2. Answer Yammer’s question: “What are you working on?” they would reveal information that would inspire colleagues, in their Yammer community, to reach out and offer performance assistance. This would result in colleagues learning from each other and assisting each other and would eventually turn these groups into Communities of Practice.

Findings indicated that:

  1. Participants used the tool to post many different types of information, not just questions, and work activity updates;
  2. Participants did not generally reach out because of work activity updates but they did reach out to respond to questions;
  3. Participants perceived that their learning, effectiveness and efficiency were increased because of their Yammer use;
  4. Participants received assistance on the job through many different types of information that they post, not just questions and work activity updates;
  5. Participants felt supported by the Yammer community.

Keywords: microblog, Yammer, Twitter, informal learning, performance support, communities of practice, situated cognition, distributed cognition, knowledge management, expert networks

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

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This is a section of a research proposal, to read more, go to the Table of Contents

Hutchins’ (1995) definition of 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. A great example of distributed cognition, as described by Hutchins (1995), 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.

In any organization, it is the collective driving it forward. Even though there may be individual contributors, no one person alone can help a company, for example, meet it’s revenue goals. Again, it has to be the collective. It is the “informal communication channels that make work proceed smoothly, synchronized among a group of workers without the need for direct verbal communication” (Norman, 1993, p. 153). In Norman’s (1993) examples this non-verbal communication is observed in person. However, with today’s knowledge workforce being distributed across many locations, observation takes on different forms, like reading status updates. In addition, in many cases, the work doesn’t have to be as closely synchronized as employees would need to be to operate a ship. Yet, at the end of the day, the work product is still that of the collective. Microblogs offer just this capability: the possibility of “observing” each other’s actions without actually being there, without working closely together and without direct verbal communication. In fact answering the question: “What are you working on?” produces status messages that uncover context. “…knowing and context are irreducibly co-constituted, and learning is fundamentally connected with and constitutive of the contextual particulars through which it occurs (S. A. Barab & Kirshner, 2001; Cobb & Yackel, 1996)” (Sasha A Barab & Plucker, 2002).

Distributed cognition provides a framework, or lens through which to analyze cognition that focuses (unit of analysis) on the system, rather than the individual (Hutchins, 1995). Cognition is not just distributed within (Minsky, 1986) but also between learners and the objects they use to solve problems (Schwartz, 2008). Therefore, when researching microblogs, focus will be placed on the interaction between individuals and the tool as well as between individuals and other individuals.

This is a section of a research proposal, to read more, go to the Table of Contents

As mentioned previously, microblogs offer something that is not normally easy to acquire, context to a very high degree through employees status updates. Therefore, the link between microblogs and performance support, learning and ultimately, performance improvement becomes clear. It follows that the theories influencing this research include situated cognition which considers context in learning and performance improvement, and distributed cognition, which also focuses on context and encourages a view of microblogs as a system, and finally communities of practice which can account for the groups that may emerge through microblogging.

See the table of contents below for more details on each of the theories mentioned.

This is a section of a research proposal, to read more, go to the Table of Contents

Abstract

In this day and age when knowledge workers are entering and exiting organizations practically on a daily basis, many organizations struggle with how best to arm their workforce with the knowledge they need to maximize their performance thereby increasing the organizations efficiency and effectiveness. Social media tools such as microblogs are emerging and can be used by organizations to foster informal learning, provide performance support and help create communities of practice that result in employees enhancing their learning and knowledge and improving their performance. It is worthwhile thinking of microblogs in the context of situated cognition to understand that learning and performance are intertwined in day-to-day work activities. While distributed cognition helps us understand and view microblog users in organizations as one system that drives the collective forward.

This research aims to uncover that microbloggers in organizations enjoy enhanced learning and performance improvement through the use of the tool and that this results in communities of practice.

Finally it is also important to note that because microblogs can uncover context, manage content and provide access to experts, they could be examined in the context of a knowledge management system and used not just to manage an organization’s knowledge but also to find an organization’s experts.

Keywords: microblog, Yammer, Twitter, informal learning, performance support, communities of practice, situated cognition, distributed cognition, knowledge management, expert networks

Table of Contents
(TOC links will be inserted as content is written)
Background
Problem Statement
Purpose of the Study
Research Questions
Significance of the Research

Literature Review
Informal Learning

Electronic Performance Support Systems
Microblogs

Theories
Situated Cognition
Distributed Cognition
Communities of Practice
Recommendations for Future Research
Knowledge Management

Expert Networks
Summary
Method
Yammer Functionality

Participants
Materials and Procedure: Messages to Recruit Participants
Materials and Procedure: Interview Protocol
References

Image courtesy of Solar Clarity

When I started this blog, dedicated to my research, I said that I would bring you with me on my journey–no matter where it leads. That means I may explore ideas/concepts/theories that may or may not eventually fit with my research–but that is ok, as it is all part of the journey and you have to dig in and understand things before you can rule them in or out.

Now that I have established that distributed cognition is a good lens with which to examine enhanced learning and performance through microblogs (see previous entry), I looked at similar concepts/theories and I came across the concept of the “extended mind” and it sounded like it may be relevant to me, so I explored it.

Extended Mind Concept and Distributed Cognition

The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia: “The seminal work in the field is The Extended Mind, by Andy Clark and David Chalmers…They argue that it is arbitrary to say that the mind is contained only within the boundaries of the skull.” Sound familiar? Yes, it does as I believe it is related to distributed cognition. So, what is the difference? My interpretation is that one is tangible and the other is not. In other words, distributed cognition gives an example of a person working out a math problem on a sheet of paper–stating that cognition in this case is distributed between person, paper and pencil. An extended mind example I learned is the following: a person stares at the back of your head–you turn around. Scientists say this is an example of how your “mind” is beyond your “skull” because you can, in a sense, make someone move just by looking at them. Wow–I know, very intense which is why I just had to blog about it.

Extending the Mind Into Another Mind Through Microblogs

If I wanted to get really philosophical, I could argue that using microblogs might help us extend our minds by allowing us to practice mind reading, which eventually may lead to more enhanced mental skills.

More from Wikipedia’s explanation: “The separation between the mind, the body, and the environment is seen as an unprincipled distinction. Because external objects play a significant role in aiding cognitive processes, the mind and the environment act as a “coupled system.” This coupled system can be seen as a complete cognitive system of its own. In this manner, the mind is extended into the external world.” Maybe microblogs can help us practice extending our minds from a more tactical perspective. Maybe after using microblogs for a while with a person you could become so connected that when you think of something they can “sense” it.  You have probably felt this phenomenon with a close friend or spouse. Maybe using microblogs you can feel that way with many people who become close to you through their status updates. Maybe, or maybe not.

So, will I include the concept of the extended mind in my research? No, because I am not setting out to prove microblogs help extend the mind–but I had to blog about it because it is just so interesting and maybe someone reading my blog will take this on ;). Check out this additional explanation on YouTube.

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

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