Why We Need Learning Scientists for Instructional Technology to Succeed!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article by Bror Saxberg calling for more involvement of learning scientists in the design of instructional technology.  Learning science is still relatively new but is gaining popularity in graduate education.  It is an interdisciplinary field that draws from curricula studies, computer science, instructional technology, and cognitive science.  Saxberg makes a number of excellent points:

“I wandered around the South by Southwest ed-tech conference, listening to excited chatter about how digital technology would revolutionize learning. I think valuable change is coming, but I was struck by the lack of discussion about what I see as a key problem: Almost no one who is involved in creating learning materials or large-scale educational experiences relies on the evidence from learning science.

We are missing a job category: Where are our talented, creative, user-­centric “learning engineers” — professionals who understand the research about learning, test it, and apply it to help more students learn more effectively?

…I am not suggesting that all subject-matter experts (meaning faculty members) need to become learning engineers, although some might. However, students and faculty members alike would benefit from increased collaboration between faculty members and learning experts — specialists who would respect each other’s expertise — rather than relying on a single craftsman in the classroom, which is often the case in higher education today…

…technology has only a chance to help — there is no guarantee. While we hope that only the best instructors are engaged with technology, imagine your worst college professor. In the old days, that person damaged just a few hundred students per year. Thanks to video on demand and other wonders of technology, today that person might damage a few hundred thousand students — a weapon of mass destruction. Not exactly a win for technology and learning.

…Technology is not the problem. As Richard E. Clark suggested in his book Learning From Media: Arguments, Analysis, and Evidence, education technology serves only as a delivery vehicle. All technologies can deliver effective or ineffective instruction. The key question is what you ask students to do and how you help them do it, not what tools you use.

After decades of experimental work by cognitive scientists and others, we now know a lot about how people learn. Neurons do not follow Moore’s law, the prediction by Gordon Moore in the 1960s that semiconductors would double in capacity every two years. Since our brains’ cognitive machinery does not change year after year, the good news is that investing in learning science will have long-lasting benefits.”

Lots of good insights in this article.  Well-worth a read!



One comment

  1. A number of institutions have established, or are establishing, programs in Learning Sciences. Where has learning sciences come from?In one form or another learning science has been around for a very long time. But I think it’s been a frustration with traditional cognitive science that has led to the growth in focus on learning sciences.