Learning Sciences History
Learning Sciences, as a field, emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s as cognitive scientists, educational and instructional psychologists, and computer scientists attempted to move principles of learning and research methodologies based in laboratory research to research on learning in classrooms and work settings. Over and over again, researchers found that methodologies that worked perfectly well in the laboratory (precise control over variables, random assignment of subjects to experimental conditions, quantitative dependent variables) and learning principles that were clearly demonstrated in the laboratory (e.g., interference effects, skill acquisition trajectories, strategy training) simply did not hold up in the worlds of real children, teachers, classrooms, and workplaces. And learning technologies that seemed to hold great promise for solving education's problems (at least to those in Artificial Intelligence who developed them) repeatedly made their way to the unused recesses of classrooms and schools.
Gradually, learning researchers recognized that new theoretical and methodological orientations were needed to productively study learning, instruction, and roles for technologies in formal and informal educational settings. Several major shifts in orientation from traditional paradigms marked the emergence of the Learning Sciences:
- From the passive learner to whom knowledge is transmitted to the active learner who consciously builds knowledge,
- From learning as an individual, in-the-head activity, to a learning as a social activity where interaction with others and the environment play a crucial role, and
- From attempts to isolate and control variables extraneous to the experimental hypotheses to acceptance of the multiple dimensions and variables operative in naturally occurring learning environments and the creation of systematic ways to study and understand them.
Over the past 15 years, the theory and methods have coalesced and there is a recognized field called the Learning Sciences. The Journal of the Learning Sciences has been in existence since 1990, and in 1994 the first International Conference of the Learning Sciences was held in Chicago at Northwestern University. In 2002, the International Society for the Learning Sciences was formed and now has a membership of over 300. According to a recent National Science Foundation description of the field of Learning Sciences (National Science Foundation, 2004), it is "extending understanding of learning and connecting learning research to the scientific, technological, educational, and workforce challenges of our time."