Social Media (Networking) Activity and Enhancing Learning (Part 2)

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The Components of Learning

Having defined and delimited social media activity, it is also important to adopt a definition and delimitation of learning. Such a discussion is particularly important because social media activity enables two forms of cognition: What Coon (2007) referred to as traditional cognition and what Adams and Aizama (2010) described as extended cognition. Both of these forms of learning require strict definitions.

According to Coon & Mitterer (2008), cognition is “the process of thinking or mentally processing information (images, concepts, words, rules, and symbols)” (p. 285). Note that this definition focuses on the internal aspects of cognition, as thinking is something that takes place inside the human brain. However, according to Adams and Aizama (2010), extended cognition is also a legitimate form of learning. Extended cognition, according to Adams and Aizama, is the kind of learning that takes place based on an “increasing reliance on tools” (p. 25). Indeed, the history of human learning is the transference of once purely-internal cognitive processes to the external environment. Verbal rhetoric gave way to writing. Internal calculation gave way to calculators and computers. In Coon’s version of the theory of cognition, what we do when we use calculators is not cognition or learning per se; learning takes place only insofar as what we do on the calculator refines our internal mental understanding of, and ability to do, computation.

The theory of extended cognition as championed by Adams and Aizama (2010) is more popular among cognitive scientists, and it is also the theory adopted for this study. This theory has two important implications for the study of social media activity in college-level learning environments. First, the theory of extended cognition would support the premise that learning to use social media technology is an important kind of learning in itself. To be sure, college-educators will want to use social networking technology to teach some form of traditional subject matter to students. However, the use of social media activity is now a form of learning in itself, much as learning to use a calculator has become just as important as learning the theory of calculations. Education in the modern era is distinguished by a combination of tools and media (calculators, computers, social networking, etc.) on the one hand and internal cognition on the other. The theory of extended cognition informs educators to the value of social media activity as a required component of modern environments of learning.

The second advantage of the theory of extended cognition is that it provides a mental map for understanding how using a technology or a medium can translate into internal cognitive benefits. The traditional theory of cognition is insufficiently attentive to this aspect of learning. The theory of extended cognition accounts for the transfer of what we do ‘out there’—in the world of computers, calculators, and social media activity—to what goes on ‘in there,’ that is, in the minds of our students.  Adams and Aizama (2010) express this concept more directly: “A human with a pencil and paper has greater reasoning abilities and greater mathematical abilities than a human left to her own brainy devices” (p. 25).



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About the Author:

Dr. John Weidert is an independent educator, communicator, and practitioner of educational and organizational leadership, communication, and media studies.