Insights from the Learning Sciences

I recently came across an interdisciplinary field called the Learning Sciences. I would have expected to be exposed to the Learning Sciences in my teacher preparation studies, but this was unfortunately not true. And although I haven’t looked into it, I expect this is probably true for most pre-service teacher programs. I had been on the lookout for this slant on research for a long time, which, as the name suggests, examines how people learn.

The Learning Sciences (LS) is plural because it makes use of many different sciences: psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, and education, amongst others.

My first impression of LS was its depoliticised nature. When Robert Keith Sawyer reported that Learning Scientists “discovered” when they went into classrooms that schools were not teaching in a way that develops “deep knowledge” [1], in line with LS, I had to chuckle. Instead, he describes that schools are usually focussed on “instructionism”. This is his term for what Paulo Freire called the “banking model” of education, where teachers “deposit” knowledge in learners’ heads. As we all know, its a very short term deposit, and quickly disappears.

Anyway, science is ideally immune from political influence, and often lives up to that ideal. As a science, LS should aspire to that ideal too. While this means that the findings of LS should be backed up with evidence, I have not yet had the chance to examine it. Instead, for now I’m going to treat some of the insights from LS in an experimental way, and just try them out and see if they work.

As part of some coursework I have to take for my doctorate, yesterday I was reflecting that too often I can get lost in my own learning for its own sake, rather than putting it to use. Moreover, one of my long-term goals is to teach my own work, which is the Humboldtian ideal for modern universities: to have research and teaching occurring in the same institution (Medieval universities were only institutions of teaching).

As such, the following is a basic fact from the Learning Sciences that I thought could be put to good use:

The importance of reflection. [2]

The importance of reflection is vital for both teachers and students. As described, students learn better when they have the opportunity to express their learning through active creation: through text, drawing, conversation, or any other artifact, and then critically analyze their creation. This is an ongoing process which moves the learner toward deeper understanding.

My problem, as I mentioned yesterday, is that too often I get lost in my own learning, taking in information, but not actively creating something from it that I can share and then critically reflect on myself, as well as receive feedback on from others. This is part of what this blog is about. Furthermore, what I want to aim for is to make a habit of creating from my learning, and using those creations as teaching resources, especially youtube videos and podcasts. Well anyway, that’s my developing idea!

[1] Sawyer, R. K. (2022). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, 3rd ed., p. 4

[2] ibid.