Learning Science

Many people would agree there is a need for radical change in education. There is no shortage of ideas, technologies and research, but despite this what you often see in a twenty-first century classroom is not radically different from what you would see in a nineteenth century classroom. Even with online education, which would seem a radically new approach, the available models are often constrained by that with which instructors are already familiar.

Education is still largely dominated by methods of instructional design and teaching practice that are rooted in pre-internet thinking. Technology is often used to augment, rather than redefine the existing models. There is still a sense that many content-heavy courses should be taken before students can engage in more practically oriented courses. Assessment is still dominated by letter grade based on a broad non-standardized level of attainment in a course.

Learning science has been seen as the research field to help overcome these constraints and provide evidence-based models for more effective forms of learning. Learning science has its roots in cognitive psychology and initially was primarily focused on understanding learning processes in individual humans. More recently it has expanded to cover interests in areas such as learning environments, instructional methods, and the impacts of technology. It could be argued that it has not expanded quickly or broadly enough to cope with the rapid development of new technologies and the need for better models of teaching and learning support.

I think it is important to point out that when we think of learning – we tend to think of it in the context of formal learning in schools. I would say that there are three intersecting domains of life-long learning. In each of these areas there can be formal (e.g. courses) and informal (e.g. conversations with other learners) methods of learning. The study of the intersections of these areas and between the formal and the informal is the first area that needs more attention from researchers.


Over future posts I will highlight other areas where learning science can be expanded and improved.