Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Learning Sciences: A Virtual Round-table (Week three)

R. Keith Sawyer, Michael A. Evans, Martin J. Packer

Last week, we asked the editors of Reflections on the Learning Sciences about new research in the field of learning sciences.

This week, we ask:

How can we better leverage digital media to create innovative environments for learning that both excites learners and deepens understanding?


Michael A. Evans, North Carolina State University

Martin J. Packer, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia

R. Keith Sawyer, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Michael A. Evans

As mentioned in last week, game-based and digitally-mediated learning are gaining significant ground in the research on learning and teaching. Game-based learning, for example, is being investigated and leveraged to engage learners in content areas by providing interactive, personally-adaptive learning experiences that have been demonstrated to positively influence learning and self-regulation. Digitally-mediated learning, which sometimes can be equated with social media, is being used to tap into learner interests to expand how we define, research, and measure learning. For both mentioned examples, evidence would suggest that heightened engagement and connection to personal interests leads to deeper understanding. Other examples for innovative digital innovations would include blended or hybrid learning environments, virtual classrooms and public schools, and augmented and 3D immersive reality.

Martin J. Packer

Technology is moving into learning environments in ways that have been unanticipated and unplanned by educators. I am referring to smart phones. Young people now carry with them the power of the internet, with all the information and the social media that it makes available. School classrooms, and other settings, are being transformed by this ubiquitous technology, for better and for worse, whether we like it or not.  In this case, we are racing to catch up with and adapt to environments for learning that have changed before we even noticed.

This is an illustration of the fact that it is not the case that learners are a static target, while researchers and educators are active creators of the occasions for learning. On the contrary, people do not need to be excited in order to learn. They learn when they have become excited, and one of the responsibilities of teachers and educators is to discover what has excited students. People learn all the time, whether they are being taught or not. One of the strengths of the learning sciences has been to separate learning from teaching, both conceptually and empirically, so that we can foster learning more effectively, often by simply getting out of its way.

R. Keith Sawyer

We need learning sciences research to help software developers and user interface designers to create products that result in effective learning. Unfortunately, most of educational technology is ineffective. That’s because it’s almost never grounded in any scientific research on how people learn. Many learning scientists are working directly with new technologies, because when used well, they offer unique benefits to learning that can’t always be replicated offline.

*Next week, the authors discuss misconceptions about learning sciences

About The Authors

R. Keith Sawyer

R. Keith Sawyer is the Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author or editor of fourteen books, inc...

View profile >

Michael A. Evans

Michael A. Evans is Associate Professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences at North Carolina State University, where he is also a Senior Research Fellow a...

View profile >

Martin J. Packer

Martin J. Packer is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. He is the author of The Structure of Moral Action, Changing Classes: Scho...

View profile >

Latest Comments

Have your say!