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Written by Annette Devilee – prepared as part of the assessment for her Master of Learning Science and Technology (MLS&T) at The University of Sydney. 2008.

This page will describe what are Mindtools, give rationales for using technology as Mindtools and give examples of Mindtools.

“Mindtools are computer applications that, when used by learners to represent what they know, necessarily engage them in critical thinking  about the content they are studying” (Jonassen, 1996).

Enhanced Learning Capabilities

Mindtools can be used to off-load some of the cognitive burden of carrying out tasks (Solomon, 1993). Computers are very effective at calculating, storing, retrieving and memorizing information.  When these tasks are off-loaded onto the computer the learner is freed up to focus on high level processing such as planning and decision-making. In this way, the mindtool enhances the learning capabilities.

Mindtools allow the student “to think harder about the subject matter domain being studied while generating thoughts that would be impossible without the tool” (Jonassen et al, 2003, p. 30). The learning process becomes more meaningful; instead of the acquisition and memorisation of information the student and the computer create an intellectual partnership that can enhance the thinking and learning process. The computer becomes a tool for the creation of knowledge. 

Characteristics of Mindtools

Learners as Designers–   Mindtools require the learner to think harder about the subject matter and more meaningfully.  The learner has to “teach” the computer; design the database, create the formulas in a spreadsheet or program the robot.  They are designing the processing in the computer or other technology.

Knowledge Construction, Not Reproduction– Mindtools help learners to actively participate as they construct their own knowledge, rather than reproducing the way the teacher sees this knowledge

Learning with Technology–  When students work with computers, instead of learning from them, the computer enhances their thinking and learning. The computer and student work as intellectual partners to achieve more together.

(Un)intelligent Tools- Mindtools are unintelligent tools which rely on the learner to provide the intelligence. The critical thinking is the responsibility of the learner, not the computer.

Distributing Cognitive Processing– When the student offloads some cognitive tasks to the computer the student/computer partnership become more productive 

Cost and Effort Beneficial– Mindtools are easy to use and applicable across a wide range of subjects.

Developing autonomy and confidence– When computers are used as mindtools the control of their learning process is given over to the student. This increased sense of autonomy gives students greater motivation and helps them to develop confidence in their personal abilities, thus increasing self-efficacy. “Their autonomy and confidence increase as they rely less on their teacher and more on their own initiative for knowledge-creation” (SEDL).

Examples of Mindtools

There are several classes of Mindtools:

  • Semantic Organisation tools– databases and semantic networking (concept mapping) tools. 
  • Dynamic Modeling tools spreadsheets, expert systems and systems modeling tools (e.g. Stella), Robotics
  • Information Interpretation Tools– search engines and visualisation tools
  • Knowledge construction tools– hypermedia 
  • Conversation and collaboration tools– synchronous conversations (Chats, MOOs, and MUDs and videoconferencing) and asynchronous discussion (e-mail, listservs, bulletin boards, forums) (466) words)


  • Johassen, D, H, (1996) Computers in the Classroom, Mindtools for Critical Thinking. Prentice-Hall
  • Jonassen D.H. ,- Chad Carr,- Hsiu-Ping Yueh (1998) TechTrends, Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking v43 n2 p24-32 Mar 1998 retrieved 5/5/07 from 
  • Jonassen, D.H. Howland, J., Moore, J., Marra, RM. (2003) Learning to solve Problems with Technology. A Constructivist Perspective
  • SEDL, Southwest Educational Development LaboratoryTechnology Assistance Program, Computers and Constructivism. Accessed 14th March, 2007.

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