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RE: [xmca] From Keith Sawyer on learning sciences


Thanks for bringing in Keith's authoritative voice. 

I think there is a natural way in which socioculturalists are in
sympathy with learning sciences goals. Both are interested in dealing
with learning in a full-bodied way that honors the complexity of the
full human being. And I suppose it is a kind of good news that
Vygotskyan scholarship is considered fundamental to the LS effort. But
the differences of purpose may be more significant than the
commonalities. Learning scientists are interested in managing
theoretical heterogeneity. As you pointed out earlier, the
methodological co-development of "design experimentation" is an
important window into the learning sciences. Missing from LS is the
central effort toward theoretical synthesis that characterizes
sociocultural psychology. 

This raises broader questions about the status of these enterprises as
socio-historical movements. The sociocultural movement, broadly
considered, is a scientific search for explanation--well, perhaps we
aren't quite deeply enough determined by data to be a science--maybe a
blend of science and philosophy. The status of LS is more ambiguous.
Perhaps "applied science" would be the correct rubric. Perhaps a
postmodern variant of science. Or perhaps an (unwitting?) hegemonic
extension of cognitive psychology. 

It really is unclear the extent to which the computational metaphor
remains central to LS, particularly when the status of the enterprise is
unclear--perhaps ambiguous. In Keith's construal, computation is just
one of the orienting theoretical tools. But as Martin noted a couple of
days ago:

"further Googling discloses 'three principles [of the New Science of
Learning] to guide the study of human learning across a range of areas
and ages: learning is computational- ...; learning is social-...; and
learning is supported by brain circuits linking perception and action.'
I suppose two out of three aint bad, but the fact that the first is
first speaks volumes."

David Kirshner

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]
On Behalf Of mike cole
Sent: Thursday, September 17, 2009 4:03 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
Subject: [xmca] From Keith Sawyer on learning sciences

Keith is not currently subscribed to xmca. Here is his response to some
the recent posts. I will collate relevant replies and send along to him
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
I will send you this note which you have my permission to post on my
 If in a week or two you think I need to return to the thread again,
email and let me know.

<Beginning of quotation for you to post>

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

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

(a) the Artificial Intelligence and Education conferences that were
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
in some XMCA thread postings is misplaced.  The AI and Education
continue to take place today but there is basically no interchange with
learning sciences.

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

(c) the broad 1980s shift in the cognitive sciences from a narrow
focus on cognition, to a more situated/distributed notion of cognition.
 Vygotsky was only one of many influences in this movement, which was
of the 1980s zeitgeist in AI and in cognitive science; that may be why
don't see more explicit citation to Vygotsky in the Handbook.  (I chose
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
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,
from situated cognition, or from human-computer interaction, or from
games research, or from science education research, or from math
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
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
present capabilities of cognitive neuroscience to impact educational
practice.  (See John Bruer's "A bridge too far" ER article.)  However,
are receptive to benefiting from neuroscience, once the methodologies
more advanced...perhaps unlike some LCHC-ers whom I suspect in principle
opposed to neuroscience and education.  The NSF news story about
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
and several others, and none of the other PIs are doing neuroscience.
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
and conclusion) is titled "Analyzing collaborative discourse."

mike coole wrote:

> Keith-- A discussion of learning sciences, its history and its
> has erupted
> on xmca. You are right there in the middle. It would be great if you
> 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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