How Do We Learn?

Learning and making sense of things are part and parcel of what we do to understand our being in the more-than-human-world. How do we learn? How do learning, culture and technology belong to or juxtapose with cognition? What is cognition in a rich reality, complex, and shared world?

Cognition as (Inter)Activity in the Techno-Cultural World

New perspectives view cognition not only as the mental processing of information occurring in the brain, but also, and more importantly, as (inter)activity in our technological and cultural worlds. Techno-cultural theory, which is grounded in the interdisciplinary study of the Learning Sciences, asserts that cognition is inseparable from epistemology and ontology as a complex system of technological and cultural phenomenon distributed over (not divided amongst) mind, body, artifact and activity in socially organized settings. In this view, cognition is not bounded by the body or the brain, but is a cultural process of coming to know and to be, in-interaction-with technology in a more-than-human-world.

Learning can be thought of as:

  • “assembling what assembles a world” (Petrina et. al)
  • “expanding the space of the possible” (Brent Davis, lecture 2009)
  • “adaptive reorganization in a complex system” (Hutchins, 1995, p. 289)
  • “adaptation, assemblage, or growth in-interaction-with a rich reality, complex, and techno-cultural system” (Rusnak, 2010)

Here’s my attempt to visually theorize learning in a designerly learning environment (DLE). Learning is dynamically assembling in-interaction-with ways of knowing as doing as being as having as playing as emoting as worlding as ! (a wildcard to expand the space of the possible). Learning is adaptation, assemblage or growth along a trajectory of participation within a rich reality, complex, and techno-cultural system (in which specific DLEs share uniquely characteristic discourses, values, beliefs, goals, desires, and resources).

DLEs are created and mediated by subjects, objects, and artifacts in-interaction-with collectivity, connectivity, and capability (refer to the green arrows representing discourses of power/labour). In order to investigate cognition and the kind of learning that takes place in DLEs, we must understand that they are distinctive learning collectives and technologically-connected communities where people engage in massively complex cognitive and creative activities, and substantial identity development as well (aka: learning).

Where’s teaching? It’s the innovative pedagogical practice of the theoretical diagram you are looking upon. Your thoughts?


Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Petrina, S., Feng, F. & Kim, J. (2008). Researching cognition and technology: How we learn across the lifespan. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 18(4), 375-396.

Rusnak, P. (2010). Girls, games, and designerly ways. Paper presented at the 1st international conference of Technological Learning and Thinking: Culture, Design, Sustainability & Human Ingenuity, Vancouver, BC, June 17–21.