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Doing a little research and wanted to put it here for quick reference. Author David Jonassen defines a Mindtool as “a way of using a computer application program to engage the learner in constructive, higher-order, critical thinking about the subjects they are studying.”
He discusses the differences between learning from computers, learning about computers, and learning with computers. Learning from computers is when the computer is programmed to teach prespecified knowledge or skills. This is known as computer-assisted instruction (CAI). Learning about computers is the old notion of computer literacy. Jonassen is advocating that we learn with computers. That we use them as cognitive tools for learning, or Mindtools. They should engage and facilitate critical thinking and higher order learning. These tools include databases, spreadsheets, semantic networks, expert systems, computer conferencing, multimedia and hypermedia construction, computer programming, and microworld learning environments.
Jonassen makes a distinction between Mindtools and productivity tools. He says that when the computer is being used as a medium to help the user accomplish some task, helping to produce work, it is a productivity tool. He does not include such applications as word processors, or graphics and paint programs in his book as Mindtools. Useful as they are, he says that they do not significantly amplify and restructure the thinking of the learner.