In the 1980s, as Sylvia Scribner's research shifted direction from her concern with the influence of literacy on thinking towards the modes of thinking exhibited in different activity contexts, she began planning to integrate her work in a form that would bring together different problem areas. She was looking forward to consolidating what she had learned from the past 10 years of research on learning at work into a book, or books. One idea was to synthesize her ideas in a monograph on activity and development by examining the function of each leading activity in life – play, school, and work. To prepare, she had been reading in the areas of dialectical philosophy, Soviet theory, concept development, play, work studies, and biology.
Her last years of research carried out in the Laboratory for Cognitive Studies of Work were intense, with little opportunity for reflection, and her last illness came on suddenly and lasted a few brief months. Thus, she never had the opportunity to carry out her plan.
At the time of her death in 1991, she had nearly completed two sets of empirical studies, funded by the Spencer Foundation, the National Center for Education and the Economy, and the National Center for Research on Vocational Education. These studies expanded her ideas from earlier research on workplace cognition in a dairy plant, investigating how the introduction of new technologies affected activity and thought in factory settings. Sylvia's unifying interest, of course, was studying changes in thinking as they relate to changes in work experience.