This chapter describes the prehistory of the learning sciences (LS). My purpose is to provide a historical foundation to the field that will enable readers to recognize, understand, and appreciate its diverse but influential intellectual roots. The following questions in particular are addressed throughout this chapter. (1) What precursors led to the creation of a new intellectual endeavor called “The Learning Sciences”? What were the related efforts and projects underway prior to 1989, the year that Yale Computer Science Professor Roger Schank moved to Northwestern University to found the Institute for the Learning Sciences (ILS)? (2) What motivated the people responsible for the origins of the field? For example, why did it split from the already established field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Education, or why did it seem to split from the Cognitive Sciences, or from the American Educational Research Association? (3) What were the key conferences and conversations that led to the founding of LS, and who took part? (4) What funding agencies were involved and what role did they play in the formation of this new field?
First, I must make clear that this chapter is by no means fully comprehensive of all that was going on in a highly charged intellectual field of exciting “ideas in the air” within the period of 1980–1989, but is a decidedly personal account, anchored in my experiences of events and discussions in which I participated or that were referenced in conversations. What I describe could be independently verified with the individuals who were party to the conversations or were involved in the events of the day. Inevitably there will be charges of incompleteness, but the loose guns in critics’ holsters will need to find their own venues for filling in the historical picture. In particular, the United Kingdom was a vibrant network of relevant research, with the University of Edinburgh, Leeds University, and The Open University central nodes of research and development (R&D) activity.
A few especially relevant organizations predecessor to ILS at Northwestern had also been established in the previous decade or, in some cases, several decades earlier. These other initiatives had brought together cognition, education, and technologies: in the Education Department of Bolt, Beranek & Newman (BBN); Bank Street College's Center for Children and Technology (CCT); […]