Learning Theories for the Twenty First Century: The Science of Learning

Based on the article: ‘Learning Sciences,’ by Nathan, J.M, and Alibali, M.W. (2010).

The Science of Learning (LS) is said to contain aspects of modernism and postmodernism, constructivism, distributed cognition, and sociocultural theories of learning. The authors recognise this tension in LS as “essential to the nature of LS scholarship.” The primary concern of LS is to bridge the gap between theory and practice. It does this by a pragmatic, design based approach, in which effectiveness rather than theoretical intuitions guide the process. Different theories are useful at different times in an intervention if the goal is systemic improvement. LS is also motivated by the limitations of theories of learning to offer specific methods of instruction. The LS framework for instruction includes the following core components:

1. Students arrive in a classroom with existing knowledge and beliefs that need to be accessed, and perhaps altered.

2. Students need to play an active role in the learning process, what is known as a ‘learner-centred classroom.’

3. Metacognitive reflection on the process and product of learning are essential for students to become independent learners.

Another key feature of LS is that learners are viewed as part of a complex environment, consisting of peers and teachers, but they are also in constant interaction with physical, cultural, semiotic, and technical tools. Learning needs to be understood as emerging from this complex interaction, which impacts significantly on instructional design.

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