The field of learning sciences (LS) grows out of a realization that the study of learning and behavior in complex settings demands powerful methodological approaches and theories that are not foregrounded in current member disciplines. The future capacity of LS to carry out its research and development mission relies heavily on the effectiveness of its associated graduate education programs. Yet, we argue that LS faces significant challenges – fault lines, in our terms – that are endemic to scientific research and to the culture of the university settings that house the current core research centers.
Fault lines are the institutional and disciplinary divisions that polarize the scholarly community and promote an “either–or” logic among its proponents and detractors. Historically in education, programs and disciplines often flow back and forth with the tide of current popularity that favors the benefits of one side or the other leading to a perpetual state of: identity crises, programmatic revisions, lack of disciplinary progress, cycles of rediscovery and retreading ideas, and marginalization within academe (Fenstermacher & Richardson, 1994). These fault lines stand to hamper the success of the LS research program and the education of its next generation of scholars.
It is in this context that the three coauthors, each from different institutions and disciplinary perspectives, brought together scholars from a range of LS graduate programs and research institutes to openly consider these challenges, the designs of their programs, and the relations of their programs to the program designs and training practices used by others.
In this chapter, we delve into these challenges and report on the outcomes of these discussions. As background, it is useful to describe some of the major themes that we believe have contributed to the development of LS in its current form. First, LS follows the lead of the field of Cognitive Science by orienting toward an object of study and by welcoming scholars that engage in the principal study of that object regardless of their home discipline. Cognitive Science casts that object of study to be cognition as computation (Chalmers, 1993/2012). In comparison, Janet Kolodner's (1991a) editorial from the inaugural issue of the Journal of the Learning Sciences orients the newly emerging field of LS as the investigation of “new ways of thinking about learning and teaching that will allow the cognitive sciences to have an impact on the practice of education” (p. 1).