Epistemic affordance

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Draft 1

Editor: Manolis Mavrikis, Institute of Education, London Knowledge Lab



The expression "epistemic affordances" refers to those affordances that are related to the expected or potential ways that a particular computational environment can be used to support learning by facilitating, or constraining on purpose, the acquisition of new information or knowledge.

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Related terms

Affordance, cognitive affordance, educational affordance

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Disciplinary issues

The term "epistemic affordances" is used in philosophy of perception extending Gibson's notion of affordance "to include epistemic actions of co-classification and the like" thus enabling the thesis that "perceptual states offer information about affordances, including—crucially—epistemic affordances" (Matthen 2005 p.23). In particular according to Matthen similar to the way that "awareness of objects amounts to sensing the availability of these objects for attempts at physical interaction" (op. cit. p.9), "sensory awareness of object-features amounts to awareness of ‘epistemic affordances’, or awareness that certain epistemic operations are appropriate" (ibid.). This is close to the interpretation that can be given to the term when used to refer to ‘epistemic affordances’ of a computational environment.

The term is also used by Sloman (2008) in the area of AI to refer to "the possibilities and constraints on information acquisition" of ‘intelligent agents’ which need to work out what kind of information is relevant to process ("e.g. what can be perceived, felt, heard, etc. allowing the individual to obtain new information").

The introduction of the expression "epistemic affordance", in TEL research, allows making the distinction and differentiating from the perceived ‘pragmatic’ or ‘interaction’ affordances of educational software (and particularly Norman’s sense of the term) which can be somewhat autonomous of any epistemic basic (Mavrikis et al., to appear).


Matthen, M. [1] (2005). Seeing, Doing, and Knowing: A Philosophical Theory of Sense Perception, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 384 pages.

Mavrikis, M., Noss, R., Hoyles, C. Geraniou E. [2] (2012). Sowing the seeds of algebraic generalisation: designing epistemic affordances for an intelligent microworld. In Noss, R. and DiSessa, A. (eds) Special Issue on Knowledge Transformation, Design and Technology, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning

Sloman, A. [3] (2007) Predicting Affordance Changes : steps towards knowledge-based visual servoing. Unpublished discussion paper.

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