The Learning Sciences (LS) has become an influential approach within educational research. Its popularity has come in part from the maxim that it has taken the study of learning out of the laboratory and into real-world settings. The Learning Sciences has been described as an interdisciplinary approach to the study and the facilitation of learning in real-world settings. But what exactly is the territory of LS? In this chapter we offer an answer to this question.
By any number of measures the LS is now entering the third decade of its existence. The first LS program was founded at Northwestern in 1987 (the same year that the Institute for Research on Learning was created in Palo Alto; cf. Pea, this volume). The Journal of the Learning Sciences (JLS) published its first issue in 1991. If LS were a person we would probably say that now she is engaging in the self-examination, reflection on the past, and planning for the future, even the crisis of identity, that characterize young adulthood. Reflections on the history of LS and of JLS (as its editor-in-chief passed the baton) have being published (e.g., Kolodner, 2004, 2009), two editions of a massive Handbook have summarized the state of the art (Sawyer, 2006, 2014), and at the 2010 meeting of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS), for example, a workshop was convened on “Growing the Learning Sciences” to consider what to do “as the field of Learning Sciences matures.” LS is indeed “growing up” (Kolodner, 2009).
This chapter aims to make a contribution to these reflections and debates over the character of LS. We focus on the question of what and where is the territory of LS. The chapter is organized as follows. First, we describe several ways in which we mapped LS using textual materials. Here, our focus is the conceptual territory of LS. Second, we identify, and reflect on, three distinctions that seem to us to constitute the places in which LS research is conducted: the laboratory versus the real-world; formal and informal settings; and authentic and inauthentic instruction. Here, our focus is the investigative territory of LS.
Mapping the Conceptual Territory of LS
First, we obtained textual data of several different kinds. We identified LS programs to draw material from their websites.