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[xmca] From Keith Sawyer on learning sciences

Keith is not currently subscribed to xmca. Here is his response to some of
the recent posts. I will collate relevant replies and send along to him as
seems useful.

I read through the thread.  But rather than subscribe (I have been
subscribed before and I can't afford to have that many messages in my inbox)
I will send you this note which you have my permission to post on my behalf.
 If in a week or two you think I need to return to the thread again, please
email and let me know.

<Beginning of quotation for you to post>

The most comprehensive view of the interdisciplinary field of the learning
sciences is the 2006 handbook that I edited, THE CAMBRIDGE HANDBOOK OF THE
LEARNING SCIENCES.  This follows on and is compatible with the 2001 HOW
PEOPLE LEARN book, but that earlier book is more directed towards education
practitioners and policy makers.  My introduction chapter to the handbook,
based on interviews with several founding figures of the learning sciences,
answers a lot of the questions that have appeared in this thread.  Here are
my answers to some of the thread questions:

1. In the early 1990s, the learning sciences emerged from several historical

(a) the Artificial Intelligence and Education conferences that were taking
place through the 1980s.  These were very much production systems in the
Anderson mold.  Those who became learning scientists rejected the AI and
Education approach for the most part, so the concern with production systems
in some XMCA thread postings is misplaced.  The AI and Education conferences
continue to take place today but there is basically no interchange with the
learning sciences.

(b) cognitive developmental research (conceptual change, continuations of
Piagetian studies of developmental stages of various cognitive abilities;
think Lauren Resnick, Andy DiSessa)

(c) the broad 1980s shift in the cognitive sciences from a narrow mentalist
focus on cognition, to a more situated/distributed notion of cognition.
 Vygotsky was only one of many influences in this movement, which was part
of the 1980s zeitgeist in AI and in cognitive science; that may be why you
don't see more explicit citation to Vygotsky in the Handbook.  (I chose not
to have a series of "theoretical foundations" chapters in the handbook; if I
had, Vygotsky would have been one of them.)  So situativity has been built
into the learning sciences from its very beginning almost 20 years ago.

2. It's a complicated question to ask, what distinguishes the learning
sciences from educational psychology more generally (or, from cognitive
development, or from instructional design, or from constructivism in IT, or
from situated cognition, or from human-computer interaction, or from serious
games research, or from science education research, or from math education
research).  Learning sciences has links to all of these.  So what unifies it
as a distinct perspective warranting its own name? That's not a simple
answer, but my handbook introduction attempts to answer this question by
summarizing the epistemology that is generally shared by those who call
themselves learning scientists.  If I try to elaborate that here my posting
will get too long.

3. LS is absolutely not the same thing as neuroeducation.  Most learning
scientists do not neuroimaging, and most of us are quite skeptical of the
present capabilities of cognitive neuroscience to impact educational
practice.  (See John Bruer's "A bridge too far" ER article.)  However, we
are receptive to benefiting from neuroscience, once the methodologies become
more advanced...perhaps unlike some LCHC-ers whom I suspect in principle are
opposed to neuroscience and education.  The NSF news story about Meltzoff
that started off this thread may have given some of you an unfortunate
misimpression of the field.  Meltzoff is one of the co-PIs of the NSF
science of learning center along with John Bransford and Roy Pea (Stanford)
and several others, and none of the other PIs are doing neuroscience.  The
reason why the story refers to the "science of learning" rather than the
"learning sciences" is because the NSF grant program had that name.

And yes, I am the same Keith Sawyer that does research on creativity and
collaboration.  My own chapter in the handbook (other than the introduction
and conclusion) is titled "Analyzing collaborative discourse."

mike coole wrote:

> Keith-- A discussion of learning sciences, its history and its functions,
> has erupted
> on xmca. You are right there in the middle. It would be great if you could
> find time to
> help in the discussion and educational process.
> mike

R. Keith Sawyer
Associate Professor
Washington University
Department of Education
Campus Box 1183
St. Louis, MO  63130

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