The Learning Sciences
The modern, big Picture understanding of learning, which has been colorfully described as ranging from “neurons to neighborhoods,” requires expertise from an impressive variety of disciplines. While new knowledge has frequently com from psychology and education research, many working on learning in the twenty-first century do so as part of a newish discipline(born in the late 1980s) called “the learning sciences.”
The learning sciences combine work from educational psychology, computer science, anthropology, sociology, information sciences, neuroscience, design studies, and just about any field that can inform learning. The learning sciences draw on both cognitive and constructivist theories and they focus on learning as it happens in the conplex real world, as opposed to the controlled conditions of a laboratory.
A US National Research Council report titled “How People Learn” brought this “new science of learning” into the mainstream. It described a new understanding of what’s necessary for effective learning in the knowledge age, based on recent interdisciplinary research, and included five key requirements (paraphrased from The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences):
• Support deep conceptual understanding : Expert knowledge includes facts and procedures, but acquiring these isn’t enough. Facts and procedures are useful only when a person knows when and how to apply them, and how to adapt them to new contexts.
• Focus on learning, not just teaching: Students can gain deep conceptual understanding only by actively participating in their own learning process. The learning sciences focus on student’s learning processes as well as teachers’ instructional techniques.
• Create learning environments: The role of schools is to support students in becoming competent adult experts. This includes learning facts and procedures, but also gaining the deeper conceptual understanding necessary for real-world problem solving.
• Build on learners’ prior knowledge: Students learn best from experiences that build on their existing knowledge, which includes working with both accurate and flawed preconceptions.
• Support reflection: Learners benefit from opportunities to express their developing knowledge and to analyze their current state of understanding, whether through discussion or the creation of artifacts like papers, reports, or media.