The term learning sciences (LS) refers to an interdisciplinary field that works to further scientific understanding of learning as well as to engage in the design and implementation of learning innovations, and improvement of instructional methodologies. Research in the learning sciences traditionally focuses on cognitive-psychological, social-psychological, and cultural-psychological foundations of human learning, as well as on the design of learning environments. Major contributing fields include cognitive science, computer science, educational psychology, anthropology, and applied linguistics. Over the past decade, researchers have also expanded their focus to the design of curricula, informal learning environments, instructional methods, and policy innovations.
As an emerging discipline, learning sciences is still in the process of defining itself. Accordingly, the identity of the field is multifaceted, and varies from institution to institution. However, the International Society of Learning Sciences (ISLS, ) summarizes the field as follows: "Researchers in the interdisciplinary field of learning sciences, born during the 1990’s, study learning as it happens in real-world situations and how to better facilitate learning in designed environments – in school, online, in the workplace, at home, and in informal environments. Learning sciences research may be guided by constructivist, social-constructivist, socio-cognitive, and socio-cultural theories of learning." ISLS has a large worldwide membership, is affiliated with two international journals: Journal of the Learning Sciences, and International Journal of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, and sponsors the biennial Computer Supported Collaborative Learning conference and International Conference of the Learning Sciences on alternate years."
Although controlled experimental studies and rigorous qualitative research have long been employed in learning sciences, LS researchers often utilize design-based research methods. Interventions are conceptualized and then implemented in natural settings in order to test the ecological validity of dominant theory and to develop new theories and frameworks for conceptualizing learning, instruction, design processes, and educational reform. LS research strives to generate principles of practice beyond the particular features of an educational innovation in order to solve real educational problems, giving LS its interventionist character.
Several significant events have contributed to the international development of the learning sciences. Perhaps the earliest history can be traced back to the cognitive revolution.
In the United States, an important effort to create a graduate program in the learning sciences took place in 1983 when Jan Hawkins and Roy Pea proposed a joint program between Bank Street College and the New School for Social Research. Called "Psychology, Education, and Technology" (PET), the program had a planning grant supported by the Sloan Foundation. In the end the program would have required new faculty, though, and the institutions involved never established such a program. Roger Schank's arrival at Northwestern University in 1988 helped start the Institute for Learning Sciences. In 1991, Northwestern initiated the first learning sciences doctoral program, designed by and launched by Roy Pea as its first director. The program began accepting students in 1992, and after Pea became dean the program directorship was taken over by Brian Reiser. Since that time, a number of other high quality graduate programs in learning sciences began to appear around the world, and the field is continuing to be recognized as an innovative and influential area for education research and design.
The Journal of the Learning Sciences was first published in 1991, with Janet Kolodner as founding editor. Yasmin Kafai and Cindy Hmelo-Silver took over as editors in 2009, and then Iris Tabak and Joshua Radinsky took over as editors in 2013. The International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning was established as a separate journal in 2006, edited by Gerry Stahl and Freiderich Hesse. These journals, while relatively new in the field of education research, rapidly escalated and continue to place in upper ranks of the Educational Research section of the Social Sciences Citation Index impact factor rankings.
The Institute for the Learning Sciences hosted the first International Conference for the Learning Sciences (ICLS) in August 1991 at Northwestern University (edited by Lawrence Birnbaum, and published by the AACE but no longer available). The first biennial meeting of the ICLS also took place at Northwestern University, in 1994. The International Society of the Learning Sciences was established in 2002.
By integrating multiple fields, the learning sciences extends beyond other closely related fields in distinguishable ways. For example, the learning sciences extends beyond psychology, in that it also accounts for, as well as contributes to computational, sociological and anthropological approaches to the study of learning. Similarly, the learning sciences draws inspiration from cognitive science, and is regarded as a branch of cognitive science; however, it gives particular attention to improving education through the study, modification, and creation of new technologies and learning environments, and various interacting and emergent factors that potentially influence the learning of humans.
Many learning sciences researchers employ design-based research methodology. The growing acceptance of design-based research methodology as a means for study is often viewed as a significant factor distinguishing the learning sciences from many of the fields that contribute to it. By including design-based research within its methodological toolkit, learning sciences qualifies as a "design science", with characteristics in common with other design sciences that employ design science such as engineering and computer science. Learning sciences is also considered by some as having some degree of overlap with instructional design, although historically the two communities have come about in different ways and at times emphasized different programs of research, as described in a special issue of the journal Educational Technology in 2004.
However, it should be emphasized that design-based research is by no means the only research methodology used in the field. Many other methodologies—including computational modeling, experimental and quasi-experimental research, and non-interventionist ethnographic-style qualitative research methodologies--have long been and continue to be employed in learning sciences.
Associations and Journals
- Cognition and Instruction
- Instructional Science, An International Journal of the Learning Sciences
- International Society of the Learning Sciences
- The Journal of the Learning Sciences
- The International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning
Major Research Centers
- Carnegie Mellon University
- CoCo - Centre for Computer Supported-learning and Cognition, The University of Sydney
- LinCS - The Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society, The University of Gothenburg
- Center for Learning and Knowledge Technologies , CeLeKT, Växjö University
- Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies, Open University of the Netherlands CELSTEC
- Learning Research and Development Center - University of Pittsburgh
- Learning Sciences Institute - Vanderbilt
- Learning Sciences Research Institute - University of Illinois at Chicago
- Learning Sciences Research Institute - University of Nottingham, UK
- LIFE (Learning in Informal and Formal Environments) Science of Learning Center
- Learning Sciences Lab, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
- Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center
- Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC)
- Munich Center of the Learning Sciences (MCLS),Ludwig-Maxmilians University, Munich, Germany
- Educational Science and Technology, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands
Alphabetical Listing of Graduate Programs that Specialize in the Learning Sciences
- Carnegie Mellon University's PIER , HCII, METALS
- Columbia University, Teachers College
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Indiana University
- McGill University
- National University of Ireland, Galway
- Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Psychology Master's Program in the Learning Sciences
- Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Doctoral Training Program
- Northwestern University, Masters and PhD in Learning Sciences
- Open University of the Netherlands, MSc Programme Learning Sciences
- New York University
- Pennsylvania State University
- Rutgers University
- Stanford University
- Tufts University-Department of Education
- University of California, Berkeley
- University of California, Los Angeles
- University of Colorado Boulder
- University of Illinois, Chicago
- University of Malaysia Sarawak, UNIMAS, Malaysia
- University of Memphis
- University of Michigan – Learning Technologies
- University of Minnesota
- University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
- University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of Pittsburgh – Learning Sciences and Policy Program
- University of Sydney - Master of Learning Science and Technology Program
- University of Utah
- University of Washington, Seattle - Learning Sciences Graduate Program
- University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Utah State University
- Vanderbilt University
- Virginia Tech
- Cognitive Science
- Computer-supported collaborative learning
- Artificial intelligence
- Educational psychology
- Cognitive psychology
- Malleable intelligence
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