ABSTRACT: Reframing clinical workplace learning using the theory of distributed cognition
In medicine, knowledge is embodied and socially, temporally, spatially, and culturally distributed between actors and their environment. In addition, clinicians increasingly are using technology in their daily work to gain and share knowledge. Despite these characteristics, surprisingly few studies have incorporated the theory of distributed cognition (DCog), which emphasizes how cognition is distributed in a wider system in the form of multimodal representations (e.g., clinical images, speech, gazes, and gestures) between social actors (e.g., doctors and patients) in the physical environment (e.g., with technological instruments and computers). In this article, the authors provide an example of an interaction between medical actors. Using that example, they then introduce the important concepts of the DCog theory, identifying five characteristics of clinical representations-that they are interwoven, co-constructed, redundantly accessed, intersubjectively shared, and substantiated-and discuss their value for learning. By contrasting these DCog perspectives with studies from the field of medical education, the authors argue that researchers should focus future medical education scholarship on the ways in which medical actors use and connect speech, bodily movements (e.g., gestures), and the visual and haptic structures of their own bodies and of artifacts, such as technological instruments and computers, to construct complex, multimodal representations. They also argue that future scholarship should “zoom in” on detailed, moment-by-moment analysis and, at the same time, “zoom out” following the distribution of cognition through an overall system to develop a more integrated view of clinical workplace learning.