Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology (University of Illinois). Thomas M. Duffy,
Professor of Education and Cognitive Science, is the Barbara B. Jacobs Chair
of Education and Technology and has served as the founding Director of the
Center for Research on Learning and Technology in the School of Education,
Indiana University. He came to Indiana from Carnegie Mellon where he was
Director of the Communications Design Center and an Associate Professor
of English and Psychology. Duffy's work over the last ten years has focused
on the use of technology to support the design of inquiry based learning
environments as well as on the implications of constructivism and situated
cognition for the design of instruction. He has published over 100 articles
as well as co-authoring Online Help: Design and Evaluation; Designing
Usable Text; Constructivism and the Technology of Instruction:
A Conversation; Designing Environments for Constructivist Learning;
and and New Learning. His most recent work, co-edited with Jamie
Kirkley, is “Learning Theory and Practice: The Design of Online Learning
Environments.” Duffy and his colleagues have also developed the Learning
to Teach with Technology Studio to provide learning anytime/anywhere resources
for teachers wanting to design inquiry lessons that utilize technology to
are co-developer and co-director of planning for a major initiative at
Indiana University Bloomington to establish a graduate program and research
center in the Learning Sciences. You have been active for many years in
cognitive science research, and in instructional technology, so you may
be one of the best people around to help instructional designers understand
-- what is "learning science?"
One way to describe it is that learning science looks at the mind
in context. Learning science can also be described as the convergence
of design, cognition, and context (this description originated at Northwestern
University). It is looking at learning in context, designing learning
environments based on theory, and studying learning in those environments.
you say "cognition," you are referring to cognition in the sense
am talking about cognition in terms of cognitive processes. Certainly
cognition occurs in context and the focus of learning sciences is cognition
in context. The social environment is an important part of that context.
But of course, at least I think “of course” cognition is not
socially constructed – it occurs in a social context and is impacted
by the social context. Of course we do not understand those relations
at this time, so there are different ways of thinking about the interplay
of cognition and context and especially social context. And of course
when we also talk about cognition we include meta-cognition and motivation.
It is the complexity and multidimensionality of the issues that leads
to the strong interdisciplinary characteristic of the cognitive sciences
– including the learning sciences. And these are collaborative rather
than cooperative interdisciplinary partnerships. That is, it is not a
division of labor as so often happens in instructional technology (e.g.,
SME’s and designers) but a real partnership in which the multiple
perspectives are brought to bear on problems.
number of institutions have established, or are establishing, programs
in Learning Sciences. Where has learning sciences come from?
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. Jerome Bruner
is just wonderful to read on that. If you read John Gardner’s book
on The Cognitive Revolution he talks about the cognitive revolution as
a move from behaviorism to looking inside the head. But as Gardner notes,
the focus was on mind as computer. We saw cognition as processor functions
and of course the computer certainly did not provide an understanding
of the mind in context.
back to Bruner and his book on Folk Psychology. He provides a very nice
description of how the Cognitive Revolution was supposed to be the study
of cognition of the man on the street. It was supposed to help us understand
everyday cognition – a folk psychology if you will. I
think learning science is a reaction to the traditional cognitive science,
and more in line with the Bruner kind of perspective.
an example of the kind of research that goes on at the conversion of design,
cognition and context?
Ken (Hay) and Sasha (Barab) studied science camps ... so they designed
instruction for science camps. One of the things they really wanted to
understand was -- how do these groups come together? How do ideas get
generated and flow in the camp? So they really tracked the generation
of ideas and the development of ideas; where did a concept first arise;
what was the driving force; where did it go to? How did [a concept] even
move across boundaries; what role do teachers play versus students? So
it was kind of getting a picture of the communal thinking, if you will.
They were trying to understand that whole environment. It was a pretty
exciting project. That is just one example, but it is a project that I
think nicely exemplifies the examination of cognition in context –
it brings together cognition, context, and the design of learning environments.
is the difference between this research and the kind of research going
on in instructional technology?
That is too much drawing lines. There is tremendous overlap in work.
I tried to identify research that I thought nicely exemplified work in
the learning sciences. But note that both Ken and Sasha are in instructional
technology – so you might say it is also instructional design research
(he smiles). There is of course a lot of work that is very similar. Remember,
learning sciences has an interdisciplinary work so some of it looks like
research in ed psych, some like instructional technology, some like math
and science education, sociology, anthroplogy, etc. I guess I would suggest
that in instructional design research there tends to be little linkage
to the theoretical conversation informing research and there tends to
be a greater focus on the impact of or use of “materials”.
guess I would like to also comment on the use of descriptive and prescriptive
theory in instructional technology. I find much of the discussion I have
seen to be puzzling. The quality of a theory overall, whether it’s
descriptive or prescriptive is the degree to which it helps us interpret
a situation ... the situation to which it applies ... and the richness
and clarity of the testable predictions it offers. There are predictions
whether it is descriptive (predicitons of the characteristics something
should have) or prescriptive (predictions of how something will change
as a function of some treatment) offer descriptions of a situation as
well as testable hypotheses. I
guess importantly prescriptive theory is not just a set of prescriptions
– and in fact prescriptions is perhaps a less than usable term since
it has led many to believe that prescriptive theory is simply a set of
statement of what to do. But, in fact, it is a theoretical framework that
leads to predictions that are tested. If the research consistently supports
those predictions, then they become predictions that are interpreted in
the context of the theory.
are the challenges in learning sciences research?
One real challenge is finding the path in which the research is testing
and building cognitive theory. We say there is a focus on cognition but
I think there’s very little linkage to any detailed cognitive theory.
There are very few predictions we can make, or hypotheses tested, or thick
descriptions (from the theoretical standpoint as opposed to database thick
descriptions). What happens too often is really the design and evaluation
of learning environments, so we have so we have design based on a very
general theoretical framework and a lot of discussion about the general
theory’s relationship to design and how that theory is realized
in design. But there is little development and testing of mechanisms –
social or individual – as to how cognition is working.
Anderson, in contrast, in talking about how to blend constructivist theory
with information processing, [he] has a very rich predictive environment.
It’s limited in its range of applications but it certainly extends
into the real world with geometry and LISP and algebra tutoring systems.
I’ve talked to kids in school who’ve used [the system] and
they really like it.
you’re looking for ways to build more precise theory?
Richer, more detailed theory. Yeah. It’s really hard when you get
into a complex environment to really pay attention to cognitive variables.
People I think have done a good job of that from a research perspective
have been John Bransford and Rich Mayer, in particular. Rich is very much
an information processing kind of guy, but he does very nice work in looking
at a larger context and the cognitive variables. It's hard to do.
are the potential/fruitful relationships between instructional technology
and learning sciences?
I don’t know how to answer that, honestly. I’ll speculate
instructional designers have a lot of good ability to create instruction,
and that’s incredibly useful. In terms of studying cognition in
environments, to partner with IST brings an incredibly valuable skill
to bear. But it is a production skilland the creativity in realizing design
goals – that’s the real strength. So in fact capitalizing
on instructional technology from the learning sciences point of view is
capitalizing in that direction.
we be reading each other’s stuff?
Surely. And of course it happens. The very first article in Ed Tech [Educational
Technology] was by Jerome Bruner. Larry (Lipstiz) has actually done a
very good job of pulling diverse people in to do short articles. The easiest
way to define learning sciences is to go to the journals and conferences
- – International Conference on the Learning Sciences, Computer-Supported
Collaborative Learning (CSCL), Journal of the Learning Sciences, International
Society of the Learning Sciences, and the Center for Innovative Learning
Technolgies (CILT) at SRI.
might instructional technology be doing differently?
What a loaded question. I think in general we need to break down
disciplinary barriers and view ourselves as a community examining issues
and learning from one another. Ken Hay did a comparison of authorships
in the primary instructional technology journals and conferences (ETR&D;
Educational Technology; AECT; ISPI) and the learning sciences journals
and conferences (ISLS; CSCL; Journal of the Learning Sciences)and there
is very very little overlap. How do we break down those barriers –
what is there to learn from one another? That is the first question. Then
the question is how do we promote a culture change to change the focus
from “defining instructional technology” to identifying important
issues to be studied. And also identifying where other work is being done
on those issues – finding collaborators.
know, there are also some interesting historical developments in the field.
Way back when I worked in a military lab, as you know, and we proceduralized
the instructional design process and went through an instructional design
phase where there were posters up on how to do instructional design; the
posters were like those you would see on “How to do Artificial Resuscitation.”
And there was truly a belief that we could hire anybody and give them
this procedural training and they would be instructional designers. Now
in my mind that’s the downfall of the field as an intellectual field.
So it became very much a focus on the methodology as opposed to understanding.
example, I’ve always found it really preposterous to talk about
learner control. H ow many articles have there been on “should we
give learners control of learning?” ; you know, the assumption seems
to be that people don’t engage in learning except when we sit them
down and say, “Ok, time to learn.” Of course learners have
to develop control; the question isn’t whether or not they should
have control, it is how do you get them to become better self-assessors.
How can we even think that people don’t need to be able to assess
what they know and don’t know or what they need to do to improve
their ability? So I mean there seems to be this whole bunch of never wanting
to really think about the person as a person, a thinking kind of individual,
which, I think, comes from early information processing perspectives –
in fact as I think I said earlier, that is the argument Jerome Bruner
has made about the failure of the cognitive revolution, i.e., the failure
to attend to the person.
do you end up in the learning sciences?
easy – my degree is in “human learning” which was the
name before cognitive psychology (hmm, yes I guess I am that old). So
I was in cognitive psychology from the beginning. However, I became frustrated
with the basic research approach – theory testing was exciting but
the lack of application was frustrating. So I moved from a psychology
department to a Navy training research lab where I could do applied research.
Actually I ended up working with Bill Montague who was my mentor in graduate
school. He too was looking for a more applied environment. But as I said
earlier, the real trick is linking that cognitive theory to the applied
settings at the level of detailed theory testing and development rather
than broad based conceptualizations. So, some of my current movement is
back toward the issues and variables in cognitive psychology – at
least that is the plan.
University Learning Sciences
Program, School of Education and Social Policy
Hay, University of Georgia
Barab, Indiana University Bloomington
Science at the Elbows of Experts: Issues Related to the Science Apprenticeship
Culture of Education and Acts
of Meaning, Jerome Bruner
Mind's New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution, John
Anderson , R. K. Mellon University Professor of Psychology and Computer
Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Bransford, Co-Director, Learning Technology Center and Centennial
Professor, Peabody College at Vanderbilt University
E. Mayer, University of California Santa Barbara
Conference on the Learning Sciences
of the Learning Sciences
Society of the Learning Sciences
Center for Innovative Learning Technolgies
(CILT) at SRI
(link to Schooling and the Acquisition of Knowledge at amazon.com)