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Out of our minds: a review of sociocultural cognition theory

Pages 1-24 | Received 03 Aug 2012, Accepted 06 Nov 2013, Published online: 06 Jan 2014


Theories of mind are implicitly embedded in educational research. The predominant theory of mind during the latter half of the twentieth century has focused primarily on the individual mind in isolation, context-free problem-solving and mental representations and reasoning, what we refer to as cognitivism. Over the last two decades, CS Education researchers have begun to incorporate recent research that extends, elaborates and sometimes challenges cognitivism. These theories, which we refer to collectively as sociocultural cognition theory, view minds as cultural products, biologically evolved to be extended by tools, social interaction and embodied interaction in the world. Learning, under this perspective, is viewed as tool-mediated participation in the ongoing practices of cultural communities. In this paper, we pursue three goals. First, we provide a summary of the key principles in sociocultural cognition theory, placing this theory within a historical context with respect to the cognitive theories that it extends and challenges. Second, we integrate across different but related research efforts that all fall under the sociocultural cognition umbrella, using a uniform terminology for describing ideas represented within different discourse communities. And third, we reference a number of canonical sources in sociocultural cognition theory so as to serve as an index into this diverse literature for those wanting to explore further.


Josh Tenenberg thanks Donald Chinn, Allison Elliott Tew, Ingrid Walker and Natalie Jolly, colleagues at the University of Washington Tacoma, for commenting on earlier drafts of this paper. He also acknowledges the Helena Riaboff Whiteley Center at the Friday Harbor Laboratories of the University of Washington for providing a quiet and conducive space in which some of the writing for this manuscript was carried out. Tenenberg also thanks the University of Washington for providing sabbatical support during which this paper was brought to completion. Maria Knobelsdorf thanks Prof Christoph Kreitz, University of Potsdam, for the opportunity to be a research scholar in Q1/2012 at the University of Washington Tacoma, when this paper was conceptualised and the initial drafts were written. Both authors extend their thanks to the editors and the anonymous reviewers for many helpful comments.

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