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The term Learning Sciences (LS) refers to an interdisciplinary field that works to further scientific understanding of learning as well as to engage in the design and implementation of learning innovations. Research in the learning sciences traditionally focuses on cognitive-psychological and social-psychological foundations of human learning, as well as on the design of learning environments. Major contributing fields include cognitive science, computer science, educational psychology, and anthropology. Over the past decade, researchers have also expanded their focus to the design of curricula, informal learning environments, instructional methods, and policy innovations.

As an emerging discipline, Learning Sciences is still in the process of defining itself. Accordingly, the identity of the field is multifaceted, and varies from institution to institution. However, the International Society of Learning Sciences (ISLS, [96062]) summarizes the field as follows: "Researchers in the interdisciplinary field of learning sciences, born during the 1990’s, study learning as it happens in real-world situations and how to better facilitate learning in designed environments – in school, online, in the workplace, at home, and in informal environments. Learning sciences research is guided by constructivist, social-constructivist, socio-cognitive, and socio-cultural theories of learning." ISLS has a large worldwide membership, produces the "Journal of the Learning Sciences.", and sponsors the biennial International Conference of the Learning Sciences.

Although controlled experimental studies and rigorous qualitative research have long been employed in Learning Sciences, LS researchers most commonly utilize Design-Based Research methods. Interventions are conceptualized and then implemented in natural settings in order to test the ecological validity of dominant theory and to develop new theories and frameworks for conceptualizing learning, instruction, design processes, and educational reform. LS research strives to generate principles of practice beyond the particular features of an educational innovation in order to solve real educational problems, giving LS its interventionist character.


One of the earliest efforts to create a graduate program in the tradition of the Learning Sciences took place in 1983 when Jan Hawkins and Roy Pea proposed a joint program between Bank Street College and the New School for Social Research. Called "Psychology, Education, and Technology" (PET), a planning grant for that program had the support of the Sloan Foundation. In the end the program would have required new faculty and the institutions involved never established such a program.

Significant events in the history of the Learning Sciences include Roger Schank's arrival at Northwestern University in 1988 to start the Institute for Learning Sciences. In 1991, Northwestern initiated the first Learning Sciences doctoral program, designed by and launched by Roy Pea as its first Director. The program began accepting students in 1992 and after Roy became Dean, the program directorship was taken over by Brian Reiser.

The Journal of the Learning Sciences was first published in 1991, with Janet Kolodner as founding editor. Yasmin Kafai and Cindy Hmelo-Silver took over as editors in 2009. The International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning was established as a separate journal in 2006, edited by Gerry Stahl and Freiderich Hesse.

The first biennial meeting of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences took place at Northwestern University in 1994. The International Society of the Learning Sciences was established in 2002.

What distinguishes the Learning Sciences from other related fields?

By integrating multiple fields, the Learning Sciences extends beyond other closely related fields in distinguishable ways. For example, the Learning Sciences extends beyond psychology, in that it also accounts for, as well as contributes to computational, sociological and anthropological approaches to the study of learning. Similarly, the Learning Sciences draws inspiration from Cognitive Science, and is regarded as a branch of cognitive science; however, it gives particular attention to improving education through the study, modification, and creation of various interacting and emergent factors that potentially influence the learning of humans.

It is common for Learning Sciences researchers to employ Design-Based Research methodology. The growing acceptance of Design-Based Research methodology as a means for study is often viewed as another way in which Learning Sciences can be distinguished from many of the fields that contribute to it. By including Design-Based Research within its methodological toolkit, Learning Sciences qualifies as a Design Science, with characteristics in common with other Design Sciences that employ Design Science such as engineering and computer science.

However, it should be emphasized Design-Based Research research methodology is by no means the only research methodology used in the field. Rather, computational modeling, controlled experimentation studies, and non-interventionist ethnographic-style qualitative research methodologies have long been and continue to be employed in Learning Sciences.

Associations and Journals

Major Research Centers

Graduate Programs that Specialize in the Learning Sciences

See also


  • Anderson, J. R., Reder, L. M., & Simon, H. A. (1996). Situated learning and education. Educational Researcher, 25(4), 5-11.
  • Brown, A. L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(2), 141-178
  • Greeno, J. G. (2006). Learning in activity. In K. Sawyer (ed.) Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 79–96), Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  • Greeno, J. G., Collins, A. M., & Resnick, L. (1996). Cognition and learning. In D. Berliner and R. Calfee (Eds.) Handbook of Educational Psychology, (pp. 15–46). New York: MacMillan.
  • Lave, J. (1996). The practice of learning: The problem with "context." In S. Chaiklin & J. Lave (Eds.) Understanding practice: Perspectives on activity and context (pp.3–32). Boston , MA: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4-13.

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