Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


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

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

In the second week of our virtual round-table learning sciences, we ask the editors of Reflections on the Learning Sciences:  

What exciting new research can be found in learning sciences at this moment?


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

I can think of five new areas of research where the learning sciences, specifically, is making tremendous contributions. First, and this a personal interest, is in the area of informal education, which includes investing learning in after school and out-of-school environments (e.g., museums, zoos, and science centres). Second, is in the area of game-based and digitally-mediated learning, where researchers examine the effects of factors such as game mechanics and game aesthetics on learning, affect, transfer, and self-regulation. Third, is the area of learning analytics, where investigators use methodologies including social network analyses to interpret the large amount of data being generated in online and digitally-generated learning environments. Fourth is teacher learning, which has been noticeably underserved in the field. Now, investigators are focusing on how teachers’ development in growth in the classroom is integral to the ecology of learning in the classroom. Fifth, are studies that frame the investigation in terms of socio-cultural learning, which distinguishes itself from more conventional cognitive views of learning. The new development is that learning scientists are now attempting to account for features such as identity as integral component of learning and development.

Martin J. Packer

Given the ambitious goal of the learning sciences – to conduct research that not only contributes to our basic understanding of learning but also transforms and improves the practices and activities which facilitate learning, research in “Pasteur’s Quadrant” —  a great deal of research in learning sciences is new and exciting! For example, an upcoming special issue of the Journal of the Learning Sciences explores the influence and role of cultural-historical activity theory in learning sciences research. (I have to declare that I am a co-author of one of the articles in this issue.) What is key here is the belief that a powerful way to understand a complex system is to try to change it. It is not necessarily the case, then, that implementation of a new approach to learning follows from research that has led to new understanding. The order of these two research components can be reversed: it is as we seek to change a classroom, for example, that we begin to understand how it works. Or it is in designing an after-school program for children in disadvantaged circumstances (such as the well-known Fifth Dimension) that we begin to understand how these children learn, and how they are often turned off by the traditional school classroom.

R. Keith Sawyer

I’m excited about new research on how we can design learning environments to foster creative learning outcomes. We’ve known for years that traditional styles of teaching, based on delivering information to students, doesn’t result in creative learning. Instead, the material is learned and memorized in a rote fashion. Learning sciences research is helping us understand how to foster creativity in students, at the same time that they learn the required disciplinary knowledge.

*Next week, the authors discuss how to use digital media to create learning environments that excite students 

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...

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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...

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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...

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