Educational Media International, Vol. 43, No. 4, December 2006, pp.


The learning sciences: the very idea
Liam Rourkea* and Norm Friesenb
Educational 10.1080/09523980600926226 REMI_A_192539.sgm 0952-3987 Original Taylor 2006 0 4 43 LiamRourke 00000December and & Article Francis (print)/1469-5790 Francis Media 2006 Ltd International (online)

Technological University, Singapore;


Fraser University, Canada

Attempts to frame the study of teaching and learning in explicitly scientific terms are not new, but they have been growing in prominence. Journals, conferences, and centres of learning science are appearing with remarkable frequency. However, in most of these invocations of an educational science, science itself is understood largely in progressivist, positivistic terms. More recent theory, sociology, and everyday practice of science are ignored in favour of appeals to apparently idealized scientific rigour and efficiency. We begin this article by considering a number of examples of prominent scholarship undermining this idealization. We then argue that learning and education are inescapably interpretive activities that can only be configured rhetorically rather than substantially as science. We conclude by arguing for the relevance of a broader and self-consciously rhetorical/metaphorical conception of science, one that would include the possibility of an interpretive human science. Science et apprentissage: l’idée elle-même Les tentatives visant à enchâsser l’étude de l’enseignement et de l’apprentissage dans des termes explicitement scientifiques, ne sont pas nouvelles mais elles sont de plus en plus marquées. Des revues, des conférences et des centres de science de l’apprentissage apparaissent de plus en plus fréquemment. Dans la plupart de ces invocations à une science éducative le mot science est toutefois pris dans un sens largement positiviste et progressiste. On ignore en fait les théories, la sociologie et la pratique quotidienne de la science plus récentes au profit d’appels à une apparente rigueur et efficacité scientifiques. Au début de la présente étude, nous examinons un certain nombre d’exemples des recherches de premier plan qui démontent cette idéalisation (e.g. Kuhn, 1996; Latour & Woolgar, 1979; Popper, 1999). Nous avançons ensuite l’idée que l’apprentissage et l’éducation sont de façon incontournable des activités d’interprétation qu’on peut considérer comme science non dans leur substance mais seulement d’un point de vue rhétorique. Dans notre conclusion nous insistons sur la pertinence d’une conception plus large, ouvertement rhétorique et métaphorique de la science, conception qui incluerait la possibilité d’une science humaine explicative. Die Wissenschaft vom Lernen: Die eigentliche Idee Bestrebungen, das Studium von Lehren und Lernen in umfassende wissenschaftliche Begriffe einzupassen sind nicht neu, aber sie sind an Bedeutung gewachsen. Zeitschriften, Konferenzen und Studiencenter befassen sich damit in bemerkenswerter Regelmäßigkeit. Allerdings werden in den meisten dieser Aufrufe von Erziehungswissenschaften die Wissenschaft selbst meist als fortschrittlich und positivistisch verstanden. Neuere Theorien, soziologische Erkenntnisse und tägliche praktische wissenschaftliche Erfahrungen werden zugunsten angeblicher wissenschaftlicher Strenge und Effizienz nicht zur Kenntnis genommen. Zu Beginn dieses Beitrags werden wir etliche Beispiele prominenter Wissenschaft betrachten, die diese Idealisierung unterminieren (z.B. Kuhn, * Corresponding author. Learning Sciences Lab, 1 Nanyang Walk, Singapore 616636. Email: ISSN 0952-3987 (print)/ISSN 1469-5790 (online)/06/040271–14 © 2006 International Council for Educational Media DOI: 10.1080/09523980600926226

272 L. and complexity theory. In it. by sociologists. In the late 1980s. Wir schließen damit. we argue that: 1) current understandings and practices of science. knowing and acting were informed by recourse to sacred texts and their interpreters. as last. these endeavours came to be founded on increasingly formalized and accountable processes of observation. Kant (1724–1804) surveyed the advances of mathematicians and geometers. would lead to robust improvements to educational practice (e. by scientists themselves. p.e. die eher nur rhetorisch denn substantiell als Wissenschaft dargestellt werden können. 1991. 2) relapsing into a positivistic approach to the study of human action ignores major intellectual movements of the twentieth century. He characterized all of metaphysics to that point as random groping and longed for certain. and. a handbook is forthcoming (Sawyer. Science To understand the current push for a learning science. Rourke and N. a similar mood took hold among a group of educational researchers. Kolodner. and 3) movements under way in this century. and he compared their progress to the work of the philosophers with woe. In this classical formulation. Schank. Bereiter & Scardemalia. hermeneutic psychology. this burgeoning group coalesced into the International Society of the Learning Sciences. scientists had privileged access to the natural world. eines. Friesen 1996 . progressive knowledge (Kant. in many cases. 1979. For western chroniclers. In this article we critique the effort to reconstruct educational inquiry as learning science. and sociologists of science. In the former era. we are forced to rehearse a story that was told and retold frequently in the latter part of the twentieth century. Latour & Woolgar. philosophers. dass wir für die Relevanz eines breiten und gehemmteren rhetorisch/metaphorischen Wissenschaftskonzepts eintreten. including phronetic (i. we address four questions: 1) What is science. and a handful of learning science graduate programs has popped up around the world. 1990. Introduction In 1781. Popper. and its function is to help us distinguish the Dark Ages from the Age of Enlightenment. The story begins with a listing of the attributes of an orthodox understanding of science and ends after each attribute has been abandoned as it has been scrutinized by philosophers. 1781/2003. historians. offer more promising ways to understand and affect educational practice. representation. das auch der Möglichkeit einer interpretativen Humanwissenschaft verpflichtet ist. the story of the scientific enterprise often begins in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. moreover. 1992). 1987. The Journal of the Learning Sciences (JLS) is its principal forum. dass Lernen und Erziehung unausweichlich interpretative Aktivitäten sind. In 2002. generally considered? 2) What is learning science? 3) Is science something to which all educational researchers should aspire? 4) What might we do instead? In addressing these questions. are quite different from the nostalgic version held by those most committed to a learning science. 2006). 1999). Those who had embraced cognitive science felt their approach presented. 17). In the latter era. Chi. and verification. Daraufhin argumentieren wir.g. socially responsible) social science. a way beyond the random groping of previous research on teaching and learning. Its certain and progressive nature. a world that was . as revealed by natural scientists.

across attempts to conduct a social science. It is referred to variously as design research (Reeves. successive studies build on previous ones. there are tensions. which allowed advancement on prior work. 2004. authors attend either to its goals (Collins et al. One method. 2004). we look for this understanding in the methods of the learning sciences. Wang & Reeves. Collins. Brown trained as an experimental psychologist in the 1960s and had engaged subsequently in tremendously influential programs of educational research. at its root. 2004. As with science. Separately. for a short time and within a particular educational research community. Dede. new theoretical perspectives take over. That is. which demonstrated the experimenter’s detachment from the pre-existing reality under investigation. 1992. However. design-based research (Barab & Squire. we offer our general and somewhat awkward definition: DBR is a method of inquiry whose goal is to contribute equally to educational practice and learning theory through formative case studies of interventions in naturalistic settings. these trained practitioners described and explained the phenomena that they discovered. and much of our analyses will focus on Brown’s germinal and prescient article. di Sessa & Cobb. most of which have been borrowed from other fields and adapted to educational concerns. several problems gave rise to discontent with these strictures.. van den Akker. To move our discussion forward. we will induce this understanding through a survey of some of their practices. however. Because science is often defined.. 1999). 1996. 2004). which allowed control and manipulation of variables. 2000. and this enabled them to predict and modify outcomes. b) laboratory studies. Collins et al. consensual definition of DBR. 2004). or to its procedures (Kelly. to its epistemological commitments (di Sessa & Cobb. 2004). design experiments (Brown.The learning sciences: the very idea 273 objective or pre-existing. Learning scientists employ several methods of inquiry. which assured internal and external validity. after brief interludes of ‘progress’. a ‘handbook of learning science’). 2004). it is difficult to locate a concise. First. Kelly. is emerging within and is unique to the learning sciences. and d) reliable and valid data collection procedures analyzed statistically. 2004. Learning science To what extent do these principles reflect the understanding of science propounded by learning scientists? As we await a canonical text and codified terminology (e.g. She moved across her career from behavioural to cognitive concerns. Eventually. 1992. in terms of the scientific method. or developmental research (Ritchie & Nelson. and her early research designs embodied the social sciences’ interpretation of natural science: a) experimental and quasi-experimental designs. Employing an agreed-upon methodology. Design-based research (DBR)—the term we settled on for this article—and learning science are reflections of each other or mutually constitutive in the way that ethnography is of cultural anthropology or that conversation analysis is of ethnomethodology. For instance. . many researchers realized that their endeavours fell short on many of the defining criteria of the scientific method. 2004). c) formulation and testing of hypotheses deduced from theories. Brown (1992) acknowledged that unlike the natural sciences. much of educational research was not progressive. Formalization of the method began with publications in 1992 by Collins and Brown. Where these discussions overlap.

Friesen accompanied by new questions. and measurement instruments. ‘My training was that of a classic learning theorist prepared to work with subjects (rats. 1985). Lincoln & Guba. In the JLS special issue. 1979) and interpretivism (e. Brown (1992) questioned the utility of a reductionist approach to educational inquiry.274 L. in strictly controlled laboratory settings. Post-positivists esteem the values and processes of science that we described previously. Campbell & Stanley. research designs. and so forth actually form part of a systematic whole. picture: ‘Classroom life is synergistic. These shifts derail the progressive sequence. methodological and moral issues that originally affected Brown over a decade ago. Similarly. such as teacher training. Contributors to a recent JLS issue on DBR continue to grapple with the epistemological. which is also central to the orthodox understanding of the scientific method. Brown—and subsequently many educational researchers—found themselves studying teaching and learning in ways that systematically violated the tenets of social science research (cf. Moreover. sophomores). The oscillation of design-based researchers between these two very different positions is widely evident in their writing. readers encounter characterizations of . However. Those methods are not readily transported to the research activities I currently oversee’ (1992. As Brown lamented. Reflecting on her studies of educational practice. Interpretivists. argue that this same interpretation on the part of the researcher is not an incidental or undesirable process. but recognize that there will be some slippage in the ability to realize these ideals when one studies human. Cook & Campbell. Brown painted a holistic. The quasi-experimental research designs that Campbell and Stanley (1963) proposed as the social scientists’ response to the experimental designs of the physical scientists are one example. or error (Malhotra. 1963. testing. agentive phenomena rather than natural phenomena. subjectivity. In her attempts to enhance learning theory and practice. children. they argue.g. on the other hand. one encountered conditions anathema to objectivity and reliability. moving research out of the lab and into the classrooms. 1992. Just as it is impossible to change one aspect of the system without creating perturbations in others. Cook & Campbell. 141). As a reflective practitioner with a genuine interest in the welfare of students and teachers. (Brown. but is one that is both unavoidable as well as central and foundational. Rourke and N. Brown (1992) described further problems in imposing the methods of social science on educational phenomena. Post-positivists admit that the judgement of the researcher plays a role in interpreting the results of experiments. the principles of teaching and learning derived from these studies did not transfer well to classrooms. rather than reductionist.g. p. is the active interpretation of phenomena that are themselves intentional and consequently well beyond the realm of the unproblematically ‘objective’. design-based researchers traverse the line dividing two distinct orientations toward research: post-positivism (e. so too it is difficult to study any one aspect independently from the whole operating system. Any study of human action. and they have ritualized methods for keeping in check this bias. curriculum selection. 1979). 1994).’ she declared: Aspects of it that are often treated independently. p. Brown found that the antiseptic and contrived environments of the laboratory were fundamentally altering the constructs she wished to study. 143) In addition to these problems that arise when imposing methods from the physical sciences on social phenomena. In this struggle.

Further DBR involves flexible design revision. offer the following description of DBR: DBR focuses on understanding the messiness of real-world practice. 2004). 2004. Auguste Compte extended the vision: ‘I believe that I shall succeed in having it recognized that there are laws as well-defined for the development of human species as for the fall of a stone’ (Compte. One of these critics. assertions about generalizability. foundational objections were being posed by philosophers. the hope of certainty. proposed falsifiability as a more apt criterion for scientific truth. took issue with the assertion that empirical verification distinguished science from other modes of inquiry. they direct readers to this accompanying footnote: It is important to note that this is not meant to deride the importance of traditional psychological methods … Design-based researchers should be asking how their claims would benefit from more rigorous testing within laboratory-based contexts. In all but one article in the special issue (Dede. Two centuries after this proposal for a social science put forward by the self-titled Pope of Positivism. 431). a student of Popper’s. we sense a desire to retain scientific terminology and the esteem. but a single experiment can prove me wrong’. p. Prior to the pragmatic critiques of science offered by researchers such as Brown (1992). philosopher Karl Popper (1959. for instance. In addition. cited in Frankel & Wallen. p. 2004. The focus is on characterizing situations as opposed to controlling variables.The learning sciences: the very idea 275 DBR as an interpretivist. participants are not subjects assigned to treatments but instead treated as co-participants in both the design and even the analysis. local.. 1963). He argued that no number of supportive experimental outcomes could confirm a theory once and for all. constructivist endeavour. valid measurement and generalization. efforts to formulate the equivalent of the law of gravity for one area of human activity—teaching and learning—have been elusive. p. Again. objectivity. 5) Similar vacillations between programmatic declaration and countervailing qualification appear throughout the special issue and elsewhere in related studies and discussions. historians. Einstein colloquializes the issue for us: ‘If the . and authentic practice. 5) But hastily. Feyerabend (1975). Neatly summing up the difference. Einstein purportedly remarked. and scientific validity of findings remove them from their origin in situated. ‘No amount of experimentation can prove me right. but schizophrenic inconsistency (Bateson et al. and instead. methodological. and capturing social interaction. and procedural commitments. Barab and Squire (2004). a term invoking not only paradox. with context being a core part of the story and not an extraneous variable to be trivialized. 2000. 1974. Conversely. Critiques of science by philosophers and historians of science Forty-three years after Kant (1781) offered his critique. multiple dependent variables. Subsequently. (Barab & Squire. and sociologists who studied science. and the pursuant funding that it entails while letting go of the scientific method and its epistemological. but they are quickly referred to footnotes that return them to post-positivistic touchstones. Such researchers put themselves in a double bind. 1956): every move toward a deeper understanding of local practices is a move away from reliable. pointed out that few theories are consistent with all experimental tests. (Barab & Squire. who was interested in human activities.

The ability of this paradigm to satisfy the consensual pursuit of scientific psychology reached its limit quite abruptly in its attempt to account for language learning. As an alternative. In the late 1950s. not evolutionary. were the challenges raised by another of Popper’s (1959. The first of these. he demonstrated. and consensual meaning that objects have for an interested community pursuing a common goal. 1963) successors. Learning science paradigms: shift happens A number of aspects of Popper’s (1959. Thomas Kuhn (1996). or about free will cannot be falsified. Claims about the role of the mind. Significant developments are revolutionary. Teaching was conceptualized as the provision of rewards for the successive approximation of target behaviours. Their dismissal was consequential. Kuhn employed the term to reveal the arbitrary. The influence of this powerful paradigm lives on in our understandings of the importance of ‘positive reinforcement’ or ‘stimulating environments’ in fostering learning. problems and possible answers that this paradigm led researchers to were about ways of effectively shaping behaviour through conditioning and reinforcement. Even more consequential. It proposed to do so by emphasizing empirically and experimentally verifiable evidence at the expense of any theories or impressions about the mind or mental states. change the facts’. who questioned the progressive nature of scientific knowledge and its fundamental independence from its objects of study. generative mechanisms of the mind—a conjecture expanded to become the . Kuhn argued that scientific knowledge is cumulative only in a mundane or even accidental sense.276 L. linguist Noam Chomsky (1959) argued persuasively that the ability of children to learn the vocabularies and grammar of their native language without formal instruction could not be explained through the laborious repetition of stimulus and response. and they reflect dramatic breaks that are incompatible with previous research programmes. Rourke and N. In this sense. As a consequence. and learning came to be understood as an enduring behavioural change achieved through these processes. He then characterized these paradigms as having the tendency to undergo a seismic shift. Friesen facts don’t fit the theory. Kuhn’s (1996) analysis also presents a challenge for another central tenet of science—that the natural phenomena it investigates are pre-existing. comes from behaviour and from stimuli. in which one consensual frame of reference replaces another. Chomsky posited the existence of inherent. research questions. 1963) and Kuhn’s (1996) understandings of scientific paradigms can be readily illustrated by a cursory examination of two prominent attempts to understand teaching and learning in scientific terms: behaviourism and cognitive science. behaviourism. about thought. had as an explicit goal to make psychology—a discipline at the time associated with non-experimental introspective methods—into a ‘real’ science. Educational research itself was understood in terms of the observation of persistent changes in behaviour through conditioning. behaviourism can be seen as taking Popper’s insistence on falsifiability literally and seriously: the only valid knowledge available to psychological researchers. Kuhn’s tack was to draw on a concept rooted in structural linguistics: paradigm. as the name behaviourism itself suggests. however. and an area of scientific inquiry undergoes a sudden—rather than progressive or cumulative—change. contextual. and are therefore outside the bounds of a scientific psychology. having a life apart from scientists’ interest in them. Verification and falsification were categorical distinctions between scientific and other types of inquiry.

Lakatos. computer science (artificial intelligence). Latour (1987.g. logical. Potter. employed ethnographic methods to study scientists at work. philosophy (of mind). Whereas philosophers and historians of science such as Popper (1959. 1976) dealt with science as an abstract concept. 1988. This move was advanced by sociologists for whom the contingent nature of scientific procedures and the interpretive character of scientific facts were obvious. has its own way of configuring educational research and practice. 1998).The learning sciences: the very idea 277 founding hypothesis of the shifting psychological paradigm (e. 1963). 1999. 1979). posits that computational structures.and short-term memory. he witnessed an approach to inquiry that was very different from the disinterested. Together. and is also focused on computational modelling of such constructs as a kind of ‘existence proof’ for these ideas (Gardner. and explicitly ‘cognitive’ orientations in neuroscience and education. constructivist and situated variations on this paradigm have gained popularity—variations which are based on sociological. 2005. This powerful hypothesis served as the basis for new and interdisciplinary orientations in linguistics (structural). Cognitive science has produced ideas such as long. It is in this context that the learning sciences—as an eclectic amalgam of schools and approaches— appear to be gradually taking the place of the more monolithic scientific paradigm provided by cognitivism. p. however. and Feyerabend (1975) and others (e.g. these were known as the ‘cognitive sciences’—constituting what has been called a ‘cognitive paradigm’ (e. in clear ascendancy in educational research since the 1970s.g.g.g. represented and structured in the mind. mechanistic orientation of cognitivism in its early stages (e. Recently. This paradigm. This paradigm. Research. the cognitivist paradigm has itself shown signs of shift: ‘post-cognitivist’ and ‘anti-cognitivist’ schools of research and clinical psychology (e. in turn. Pea. Critiques of science by sociologists Although the recent emergence of the learning sciences can certainly be understood as the latest in a procession of paradigms to gain prominence in educational research. and they can be the subject of scientific investigation by being modelled through the use of computer hardware and software. 2000) have emerged over the last two decades. it can also be understood in slightly different terms. Cognitivism. and teaching becomes the effective support of these computational mental operations.. or the educational value of advanced organizers which remain with us today. Latour & Woolgar. situated and value-laden practices and contexts. see Bechtel et al. for instance. 1970. Kuhn’s (1996) work precipitated an analysis of science specifically as sets of quotidian. 1992. 1987. 1994. Learning is seen as changes in the way information is processed. Greeno. During prolonged engagements in the laboratories of primatologists and neuroendocrinologists. in other words. cognitivism. Quine. ethnographic and anthropological assumptions that differ radically from the a-social. 1961. De Mey. proceeds from ‘the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it’ (McCarthy et al. 1998). Within education itself. mechanisms and processes in the mind can be known.. and methodical reproduction of nature . is centred around the discovery of mechanisms and processes such as those identified by Chomsky. 1998. Salomon. 1992). 40). 1955). These terms are also offered by the philosophy and sociology of science—specifically by more recent developments in the analysis of science as an everyday affair engaged in by people working in specific socio-historical contexts.

By the latter half of the twentieth century. She demonstrates that the commitment to validity. 26). but these principles seemed more and more illusory. Nonetheless. we have to ignore the . they noted wryly that this is considerably less than Pfeifer spends on R&D in its pet food division. such as Knorr-Cetina (1983. p. He was equally unconvinced that the acceptance or rejection of scientific theories is decided entirely on evidence or reason. Therefore. were making major epistemological and pragmatic sacrifices in order to adhere to scientific principles. with funding for educational research. engineering. 1). Gilbert and Mulkay (1984). and he grounds his pessimism in a recounting of the recent science wars. A picture of the natural sciences as not always. he observed. Rourke and N. PCAST suggested that an outside committee. he dismissed the notion that theories stand and fall on the outcome of a single experiment. Others. He reminds readers of physicist Alan Sokal’s successful attempt to have a bogus article peer-reviewed and published in a leading social science journal. 1999). and Woolgar (1988) supported Latour’s (2005) interpretations with similar types of studies. Flyvberg focuses on how it revealed the disdainful and dismissive attitudes that many ‘hard’ scientists have for their ‘soft’ kin. Friesen still dominant in orthodox understandings of the scientific endeavour. 28. Commenting on these figures. and engineering programmes. objective. This group. He quotes from a Harvard biologist who cautions. social science can only engender the scorn of natural scientists’ (Lewonton. p. ‘In pretending to a kind of knowledge that it cannot achieve. composed of unemployed graduates from science. cited in Sroufe. as Brown (1992) describes so well. objectivity and other trappings of natural science is a longstanding attempt by educational researchers to gain respectability and legitimacy. 1997. any idealized notions of science and the scientific method as unquestionably privileged or impartial were in a troubled state. Of the many issues raised by the hoax. and explicitly logical prompted reflection among those interested in understanding human action and learning. p. Burkhardt and Schoenfeld (2003) compared research funding in fields such as science. To do so. 2003. A further explanation for educational researchers’ detrimental commitment to the scientific method is found in a tangible correlate of esteem and respect: funding. and electronics. and that have no existence outside the instruments that measure them and the minds that interpret them. cited by Flyvberg. Lagemann (2000) offers one possible rationale for this debilitative commitment. Like Feyerabend (1975) (and Lakatos. Sroufe (1997) makes the connection between the perceived legitimacy of educational research and funding by quoting from a section of the 1997 Presidents’ Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology: ‘Education research is applied and anecdotal and permits gleaning to support one’s perspective’ (President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology [PCAST]. Rarely does an experiment provide anything more than inconclusive data. maths. 1995.01% of their budgets. which they calculated was less than 0. as Sroufe reports incredulously. p. 1970. 1976). Flyvberg (2003) for one is pessimistic about this ever materializing. be enlisted to conduct educational research. In 2003. 1997. it is difficult to accept the argument that educational research needs to be more scientific if it is to receive more funding in our current Zeitgeist. or simply not progressive.278 L. not only. 102. which they pegged at 5%–15% of their budgets. They argued that the objects of scientific study are socially constructed (to use a term now prominent in a number of educational and sociological research contexts) in the lab.

work to have claims of more global significance. or as Toulmin (1990) characterizes it. ‘suppressing scientific analyses’ (Union of Concerned Scientists. 1991. However. pp. ‘misusing science’. and we cautioned the government about expanding the programme. is regularly characterized as ‘distorting science’.The learning sciences: the very idea 279 fact that a growing number of Americans do not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection (Orr. (Kolodner. and that the Bush administration. teachers. worse still. no. the JLS began in the same manner. A final rationale for the devotion to the scientific method is the hope nestled within science’s superordinate term positivism. In other words. convincing policy makers. (Seventh ICLS. and so on. In its inaugural issue. the editor presents a list of problems with education. We must show impact at the local level while at the same time. which synthesized robust research findings and presented them in an accessible way to practitioners. 2005). 3–4) The promise of a natural science of education. His article was titled ‘Is There a Science of Education?’. That hope. well-funded research programmes that are consistently ignored or contravened by practice. whose findings and hypotheses would enable ‘real world contributions’ and ‘make a difference’ in everyday practice. As an example. Miller (1999) provides examples of conclusions developed from lengthy. and other researchers of the theoretical and practical value of our work is not a straightforward process. promotional literature for the upcoming International Conference of the Learning Sciences informs attendees: While learning scientists can present rich accounts of learning in complex contexts. 431). 4–6) Fourteen years later. 2004a. ‘stacking the deck against science’ (Philipkoski. this goal of convincingly uniting a science of education with its everyday application remains. p. found its way into education in Royce’s (1891) contribution to the inaugural edition of the journal Educational Review. The head of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) enthusiastically described the series of What Works pamphlets produced by OERI in the late 1980s. cited in Frankel & Wallen. our findings were no more enthusiastic than those presented by Fabos and Young (1999) in their substantive and highly critical review of similar applications. pp. and Lagemann (2002) suggests that the answer he offered was something like. Our best teachers follow their intuitions and provide wonderful opportunities for our kids. we must make clear that the learning sciences make a difference. had even heard of them (Kaestle. he lamented that. expressed by Kant (1781/2003) in the introduction to our article. clear and consistent evidence for such a science remains doubtful and unacknowledged. Exactly 100 years later. apparently remains irresistible. and writes: We simply do not have sufficiently concise theories of learning to be able to tailor curricula to the natural way that kids learn. the government announced with . but there should be. and the antics of the Bush administration are not the only example. We are interested in publishing articles that have the potential to make real world contributions. few practitioners had put them to use or. currently the ultimate arbiter of this funding. 1993). A couple of years ago one of us successfully bid on a government contract to conduct an evaluation of the use of Internet Protocol video conferencing in a few school districts. 2000. Our experiences have been similar. 2004. Briefly.b). 2005). and later by Compte (1974. the quest for certainty. The day after we submitted our interim report. However. despite over half a million copies being distributed. some dubious solutions. but … something more concrete than intuition is necessary … A major goal of the [JLS] is to foster new ways of thinking about learning and teaching that will allow cognitive science disciplines to have an impact on the practice of education.

2004). socially responsible) educational research and development. 2001). This research would leverage this awareness to its own advantage. historical. argue that we should strive harder. cannot be sufficiently understood as the outcome of rulebound processes that can be predicted and controlled through research. Among a broad range of stakeholders in the educational process. As such. . Potter. of natural scientists. action and learning. research cannot be understood as occurring at an objective remove from its object or its subject matter. but that would be explicitly aware of the sociological and other conditions that inform it. there is a consensus: educational researchers for the most part have not been successful at emulating the processes. This would be a way of understanding the study and improvement of learning and learning conditions not as a ‘science’ that would deny the reality of its own social construction. including interpretive and phronetic (i. Brown. Barab & Squire. information is often collected selectively to legitimize decisions that have already been made. institutions. history. Such an approach would be associated with a number of methodologies and schools of thought. language and learning would be seen as necessarily occurring within a context—culture. and critical.g. collected in a disinterested manner. The nature of this context. such as language. or even understood.g. In this article. These phenomena are instead understood as being in the realm of meaning and interpretation. Dourish. 2004). groups—from which it cannot be separated.e.280 L. Some. 1992. they all share the same underlying assumptions: that human phenomena. and other domains of human meaning and action. More often. Holzkamp. let alone outcomes. is used objectively to make rational decisions. debatable. we have tried to demonstrate this argument is untenable. 2001). modelled. it may point to a different way of reconstituting educational research. Martin & Sugarman. We will gain legitimacy. The observation and manipulation of the researcher are themselves interpretable acts occurring in the context of the interpretable dimensions of culture. If we do so. In the final sections. society. As a further result of this fact. is such that it can never be exhaustively articulated. As such.g. However. Rourke and N. 2000. and with it. If this is also a turn away from post-positive commitments—which are in any case incommensurable with interpretivism—then it may also be seen as a most propitious shift of paradigms. we suggest. 1992). especially a growing community called learning scientists. and it would utilize ways of understanding the constructed. rather than being subject to any ostensibly factual or scientific certainty. human action.g. and interpretable nature of knowledge as a means of investigating its own subject matter. Experienced evaluators and researchers do not share the naïve belief that information. funding. history. we will be able to develop robust theories and improve educational practice. and genealogical methods (e. What might we do instead? Many learning scientists’ descriptions of DBR indicate a gradual turn toward interpretivist approaches to educational inquiry (e. phenomenology and ethnomethodology (e. Friesen fanfare six million dollars of funding to ensure that every school district in the province would have a video conferencing program (Alberta Government. we describe some alternative approaches to inquiry. We doubt there are experienced programme evaluators who have not had similar experiences. Examples of this kind of research are provided by hermeneutic and post-cognitive forms of psychology (e. moreover.

ca/news/2005/February/nr-VideoConferencing. Abrahamsen. Reeves. risks. 6–24. Such approaches may certainly appear ‘unscientific’ when compared to some of the methodological and other strictures that have been associated with the natural sciences and their methodology. as Flyvberg explains ‘is to help restore social science to its classical position as a practical. S. Penguin). Behavioral Science. 2(É).ab. 2). He proposed (Aristotle. 251–264. 13(1). while others are directed toward applied research. This harmonious intersection of goals was presented persuasively in Stokes’ (1997) book Pasteur’s Quadrant. The goal of a phronesis. & Graham. (1998) Part 1: the life of cognitive science. p. or techne. Aristotle defined this type of knowledge as ‘a true state. Journal of the Learning Sciences. 1(4).. A. (1956) Toward a theory of schizophrenia. Bechtel. and discursive methods enumerated above—and other possible approaches as well. However. References Alberta Government (2004) Alberta invests $6 million in province wide video-conferencing initiative. and possibilities we face as humans and societies. Available online at http://www. Thompson. 1–14. The eponymous quadrant refers to one cell of a two-by-two matrix in which the goals of pure research are fused with the goals of applied research. we think.asp Aristotle (1976) Nichomachean ethics (J. reasoned.g. K. J. Stokes’ (1997) differentiation between pure and applied science disregards a critical third category of knowledge proposed by Aristotle: phronesis. However. D. Together. G. The matrix has been so influential in the learning sciences that it requires little explanation (e. These are often referred to as the Human Sciences. In other linguistic contexts. hermeneutic. and capable of action with regard to things that are good or bad for man’ (cited in Flyvberg. W. this construction is deficient in an important way. 1999. & Squire. 4). & Weakland. in minor shifts from dominant orientations in learning science. 141–158. Bechtel (Ed. Such a designation would be appropriate to the kind of self-aware. Trans. 2003. J. However. 2000). Haley.. or episteme. Blackwell Publishers). . in: W. consciously interpretive inquiry that is informed by twentieth-century theories of science—rather than one that harks back to the time of Kant and Compte. G. The division of knowledge-seeking goals into two types originates with Aristotle (384–322 BC).) A companion to cognitive science (London. this may simply be due to a very narrow understanding of science. and at contributing to social and political praxis’ (p. they can be seen as providing a sympathetic balance that would allow researchers to understand local practices while contributing to generalizable learning theories..The learning sciences: the very idea 281 A different take on DBR: phronetic research Despite their mutually exclusive character. learning scientists are hesitant to relinquish the postpositivistic elements of DBR while maintaining its interpretivist ones. Brown. but reinforced by the way the term is used in many English-language contexts. Journal of the Learning Sciences. not inherent to the pursuit itself. the terms ‘science’ and ‘scientific’ are used to designate the broadly interpretive critical.) (London. Barab. (2004) Design-based research: putting a stake in the ground. 2000. Bateson. Schoenfeld. National Academy Press. These two alternatives—a wholly interpretivist and a phronetic approach to research—are already incipient. 1976) that some of our efforts are directed toward pure research. (1992) Design experiments: theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions. intellectual activity aimed at clarifying the problems.

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