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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: February 2016

1 - Introduction


The learning sciences (LS) is positioned as an interdisciplinary approach to the study of how children and adults learn. Generally working outside of a laboratory setting, learning scientists attempt to conduct research in authentic settings to test iteratively designs for new learning environments that results in theoretical insights as well as instructional improvements. The focus of LS research has progressed beyond a sole emphasis on individual cognition to include social and cultural considerations as well as the role of the environments in which learning takes place. LS is marked by collaborations among instructional technologists, educational psychologists, content area educators, anthropologists, computer scientists, linguists, philosophers, and many more. LS is, then, an interdisciplinary approach to the study and facilitation of learning in authentic settings.

The first LS program was formed at Northwestern University in 1991 – so the field will have existed close to a quarter century as this book goes to press. Yet, in all of this time, no book has been published that analyzes “learning sciences” itself. There are now LS programs in at least thirty-five US universities and in several countries around the world, and new programs are being created as we write. Two journals dedicated to LS have been founded (The Journal of the Learning Sciences and The International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning), and an international association, the International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS), holds annual meetings. An original focus on classroom learning has been supplemented by a growing interest in learning in “informal settings” such as museums, after-school programs, and the home. At the same time, LS is having an increasing impact on policy in areas such as mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics), science (National Science Education Standards), and engineering education (The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century). In addition, LS has been changing in important ways over the course of its existence and continues to do so. This book is the first to document, explore, and extrapolate from these characteristics of LS.

It is true that articles have appeared that reflect on the history of LS as a whole and of the Journal of the Learning Sciences in particular (e.g., Kirby, Hoadley, & Carr-Chellman, 2005; Kolodner, 2004). In addition, two editions of a massive Handbook have summarized the state of the art (Sawyer, 2006, 2014).

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