Metacognition, Distributed Cognition and Visual Design

Cognition, Education and Communication Technology:147--180 (2004)
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Metacognition is associated with planning, monitoring, evaluating and repairing performance Designers of elearning systems can improve the quality of their environments by explicitly structuring the visual and interactive display of learning contexts to facilitate metacognition. Typically page layout, navigational appearance, visual and interactivity design are not viewed as major factors in metacognition. This is because metacognition tends to be interpreted as a process in the head, rather than an interactive one. It is argued here, that cognition and metacognition are part of a continuum and that both are highly interactive. The tenets of this view are explained by reviewing some of the core assumptions of the situated and distribute approach to cognition and then further elaborated by exploring the notions of active vision, visual complexity, affordance landscape and cue structure. The way visual cues are structured and the way interaction is designed can make an important difference in the ease and effectiveness of cognition and metacognition. Documents that make effective use of markers such as headings, callouts, italics can improve students’ ability to comprehend documents and ‘plan’ the way they review and process content. Interaction can be designed to improve ‘the proximal zone of planning’ – the look ahead and apprehension of what is nearby in activity space that facilitates decisions. This final concept is elaborated in a discussion of how e-newspapers combine effective visual and interactive design to enhance user control over their reading experience.

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David Kirsh
University of California, San Diego


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