Activity Theory, ANT, or Distributed Cognition

Activity Theory, Actor Network Theory, and Distributed Cognition have all been used to describe technology and learning, generally in isolation of one another even though they appear to be theoretical cousins.  Acting with Technology by Kaptelinin and Nardi does a really nice job of explaining their nuances and differences, and if you read one chapter from this book make it Chapter 9, where a response to the question “What is the difference between these theories?” is wrapped up in a nice tidy bow.

Of note in this chapter is the topic of technology resistance, something we identified in our data in the second phase of our digital learners research (a short version of the paper can be accessed here).  Kaptelinin and Nardi note that often in our enthusiasm for technology we neglect to explain and theorize resistance, even though this is an important aspect of understanding how people act with technology (p.232).  In other words, it’s an essential part of understanding the whole story, and importantly:

…we have a responsibility to assess the impact of new technologies and to voice concerns when that is appropriate. We have a responsibility  to craft theories that allow for activities of resistance, placing them within the scope of the human relationship to technology (p.232).


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