Out of their original perspectives on human consciousness in the context of labour, first elaborated on by Karl Marx and Engels, Vygotsky’s contemporary and collaborator Leont’ev developed his ‘activity-theory’, which is a descriptive meta-theory or framework that considers the whole work/activity system as a mediating context. The goal of Activity theory is to understand the mental capabilities of the individual but rejects the notion of the isolated individual. (Wikipedia)
It is in activity theory that we, as educators, can find direction for how pedagogy can apply Vygotsky’s epistemological theories on how knowledge is formed and mediated. To understand activity-theory within the framework of Vygotsky’s theories, Vygotsky’s contemporaries Marx, Luria and Leont’ev reflect on how lives of work and activity mediate cognition.
It is in this world of productive work that we as teachers may postulate that we can productively exploit workflow principles in work activity and professional activity as models for instructional design. It is here where, in developing instructional artefacts that authentically reflect real life, that such concepts as distributed cognition, reflection, analysis and synthesis can be found. Work-flow principles, as found in professional literature, relate directly to analysis, prioritising, sequencing, synthesis, time management, resource allocation etc.; all functions that mediate higher level cognition. Task allocations, as in task-based learning, that require collaboration to meet outcomes, are well suited to allow task mediated learning to take place. Teacher/student reciprocal mediation would be one of maintaining focus, allocating resources etc. as in professional management functions, while student independence is respected, as is divergent thinking.
In more contemporary theory Nardi (1969) rooted in Leont’ev’s work explores Activity theory in the context of human-computer interaction in his book Context and Consciousness. Computer-mediated change on work-flow and cognitive mediation, and the associated disruptive nature of the implementation of technology is one interesting and relevant stream of this research. (Wikipedia) One may wonder, how in the absence of meaningful work due to mechanisation, cognitive growth may be stunted.
As a side note, it is fascinating to realise that Darwinian principles of evolution apply not only to the animal kingdom but also to the evolution of thought through work.