It’s now well recognised that language is required for thinking. Students who are not well familiar with the language of a new subject find difficulty thinking in the terms of that subject. This persists until they are able to use fluently the language associated with it.
Often the language refers not just to things, but to concepts and ideas, such as the language associated with thermodynamics (which has both abstract and tangible components). So often, higher thinking skills are also required to well understand some subjects especially if they are of an abstract nature or have a significant abstract component.
What I’m positing here is that the act of putting ideas into words, whether written or spoken, in the collaborative environment forces the individual to use the language of the subject. Being pressed in this way to write puts one in a similar position to the poet who is about to create from “the world of Thou” (abstract thought) a tangible, explicit piece of written knowledge.
This actually brought back a debate I had with my dissertation committee while writing my prospectus. I included research from Katherine Nelson (1996). They took exception to this, saying that her work was based on toddlers and the development of language, period and could not really be applied to adults that already have language.
However, the results of her study indicated that language helps to mediate meaning making within an environment. As new experiences happen, toddlers are able to create symbols (language) that they can then use in making meaning. Language meaning will change with new experiences, sometimes giving new meaning to the same word or language structures, other times resulting in new language and structures as a child's current language is insufficient to explain these new experiences.
I feel the same is true with adults. This explains the role of language in communities of practice and the role of writing in learning. When communicating in written forms (i.e. wikis, project software, reports, e-mail, chat), we are pushing the boundaries of our knowledge. We are trying to find new structures and language to explain tacit knowledge, which then mediates our understanding of emerging ideas. This would be critical thinking, abstracting, and knowledge construction (as I am doing here as I blog). While I may "know" something (apprehensive knowledge), the process of communicating it also is a learning process (meta-cognitive). Perhaps this "process" or internal dialog should be called mediated knowledge.
I think we need to look more into what happens during this stage for adults in order to create more affective training programs. This includes looking at what happens to the brain when writing, how different types of writing affect this mediation, and how we make meaning in multiple contexts, especially when those we are interacting with are in different environments.