Week4 – A4 – Engestrom

Expansive Learning at Work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization

1.  What kind of theory of learning is offered by classic activity theory

“Activity theory theorizes that when individuals engage and interact with their environment, production of tools results. These tools are “exteriorized” forms of mental processes, and as these mental processes are manifested in tools, they become more readily accessible and communicable to other people, thereafter becoming useful for social interaction.


The author mentions 3 generations of activity theory

1st generation – Vygotsky’s idea of cultural mediation of actions is commonly expressed as the triad of subject, object nad mediating artifact. Individual has to be understood depending on cultural means, and the society has to be understood in context of its individual members. 1st generation – individually focused.

 2nd generation – focus on complex interrelations between the individual subject and his or her community –  insensitivity to cultural diversity.

3rd generation – needs to develop conceptual tools to understand dialogue, multiple perspectives, and in networks of interacting activity systems. see fig 3 pg 136

2. Five principles of activity theory

  • Activity system as unit of analysis
  • Multi-voicedness of activity
  • Historicity of activity
  • contradictions as driving force of change in activity
  • Expansive cycles as possible form of transformation in activity


3. What is the problem with the ‘standard’ theories of learning that expansive learning addresses?

 Standard theories define a competent ‘teacher’ who knows what is to be learned. In such theories it is assumed that knowledge or skill to be acquired is stable and well defined.

Learning tends to be viewed as a vertical process, aiming at ‘improving’ the individual. Rather than this, Engestrom suggests a horizontal / sideways learning and development which compliments the traditional learning view.

4. What is the criticism that Engestrom makes of the apprenticeship model of learning ?

That there is an assumption that the assignment for knowledge creation is given from above; from the master.


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