Activity Theory in the Learning Technologies

This particular theory seemed to call my attention more than some of the other chapters because it proposes strong attributes to the activity that is developed within a culture and its influence on cognition.  This chapter is authored by Benjamin Devane and Kurt D. Squire.  Both of them have been involved in extensive research of game based learning through the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Jonassen and Land, 2012).

Almost immediately in this chapter the Activity Theory is identified as the Cultural Historical Activity Theory(CHAT) and it references it as such throughout the rest of the chapter.  This theory “seeks to create an account of human cognition in which people, their intentions, tools, culture, and encompassing social structures are all considered as inherently inseparable components of human activity which constitute thought” (DeVane and Squire, 2010). There is much attention given to technology tools and how they are utilized or manipulated in social situations.

CHAT has gone through three primary phases.  First, its origins are attributed to Vygotskian(1978),  who began to make connections between human thought and the cultural elements such as language and physical objects.  This theory was born out of Marxist thought.  Around the same time, a Russian psychologist attributed social relations and social conditions are primary factors of though and cognition.  In the second phase, Yrjo Engerstrom (1987) brought attention to a persons motivation toward a goal as he or she interacts within a society.  The third phase of CHAT added the strongest historical element to this theory, recognizing that the social era also makes a big impact on cognition, and must be considered especially when removed from that social era.

CHAT has five primary characteristics:

  1. It can be used as an analytical tool to prescribe specific instruction.
  2. Much of the research is based in cultural and historical reflection.
  3. It is structured research based on theoretical assumption related to human activity.
  4. The tools and resources are intertwined with the learning and knowledge.
  5. It recognizes change and evolution within a epistemological system.

CHAT is used in considering learning technologies.  By accepting the basis that knowledge is profoundly connected to our senses and experiences, the authors take a deep look at how technology tools are used in any learning experience.  Based on this approach, much attention was given to a learning system linked to game based learning.  5th Dimension, which is a network of activities, has been given much attention in regard to a systematic approach of applying this theory.  The results found much cultural diversity in terms of goals that the various leaders emphasized within this learning system.  Therefore, the learners were forced to adapt according to the cultural cues given by the mentors.  CHAT was also studied extensively in online gaming communities that had shifting rules based on inputs from the participants themselves.

In conclusion, CHAT primarily focuses on how a person is active in their own learning based on how they interact with their culture and manipulate the tools within their culture.  This theory helps educational designers develop a system of how we understand the function of learning technologies in the real world.