1993). The instrumental use of artifacts in the course of mediating everyday cognition and learning is pervasive.

In the context of everyday learning, people frequently develop unique arrangements of artifacts and associated practices in order to respond to the pressing problems or opportunities at hand. This assemblage and use of artifacts can take on both happenstance and patterned qualities in terms of how people come to respond to a situation over time, given the locally available and culturally recognized resources. In this view, learning is seen as “adaptive organization in a complex system” (Hutchins, 1995). For example, designers of informal education exhibits frequently build in ways for museum-goers to alter and customize their experience with an exhibit—and sometimes museum-goers develop their own innovative changes in order to support their own preferred way to engage.

Learning artifacts and associated activities often turn up in some spaces more than others. For example, science centers often try to cultivate use of unique physical and electronic objects that are focused on exploration, sense-making, and social interaction. Those same objects and activities are not as easily made available in other locations (e.g., in a neighborhood park or in a home). In this way, specific forms of science learning are often associated with particular spaces.

Media also represent a rich layer of learning artifacts. The various forms of media available in society—interactive, multiplayer video games, television, print—provide a specific infrastructure for learning that is historically unique. Arrays of related information and perspectives have become broadly available through online resources and communities. Electronic gadgets have become a pervasive fixture of the toolkit of personal activity and learning. Many people routinely develop and share media objects that involve sophisticated learning and social interaction.

At a different scale, in many social niches in society, the natural environment itself becomes an infrastructure and focus for learning (e.g., as groups immerse themselves in ecosystems). Science is learned in relation to these broader physical contexts (e.g., the interdependencies of natural systems, the influence of human society on the environment). The material world, with its rich place-specific features and processes, becomes the focus of inquiry and learning. For example, children reared in rural agricultural communities are often brought into an understanding of the living world through intense, sustained engagement with agricultural practices and the flora and fauna of specific ecosystems.

Culture-Centered Lens

One of the most important theoretical shifts in education research in the past few decades has been the recognition that all learning is a cultural process. Cultural theories regarding the nature of the mind, of intelligence, and



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement