Researching student competence development through the lens of cultural historical activity theory

In the present study, we followed a group of students over the course of a three-semester project aimed at increasing their abilities to express their competence development. Extensive data (video, transcripts, documentation of artifacts and communications, and field notes) was analyzed in a framework analysis based on cultural–historical activity theory (CHAT). We understood contradictions, either within or between students’ activity systems, as drivers for expansive learning. Based on the in-depth analysis of three exemplary students, this study adds to the understanding of competence development in higher education by pointing out its individuality and situatedness, as well as the social dimension of expansive learning. Implications call for researchers and educators not to take competence development for granted when designing learning opportunities, but deliberately to create spaces in which competence expression can be facilitated.


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