Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Learning Sciences: A Virtual Round-table (Week Seven)

R. Keith Sawyer, Michael A. Evans, Martin J. Packer

Last week, we asked the editors of Reflections on the Learning Sciences about the future of learning sciences

In the final week of the round-table discussion, we ask:

In what ways can learning science be adopted for communities that may not have access to technological innovation?


Michael A. Evans, North Carolina State University

Martin J. Packer, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia

R. Keith Sawyer, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Michael A. Evans

I am not one to promote technological determinism nor suggest that technology should be defined solely by digital technology within the realm of educational research, but I am also convinced through a review of the extant literature in the field as well as my own research in Asia and Africa that even remote villages, for example in Malawi (Africa), have access to digital and information communication technologies such as mobile phones and low-cost laptops. Moreover, say in terms of the maker movement that has been trending almost globally, technological innovations are being made with low-cost materials, computing power (such as the Raspberry Pi), and electronics. Thus, I suppose, my response is that the learning sciences has an obligation to promote these innovative, low-cost, yet culturally- and economically-responsive technological interventions to communities that previously may not have had access. In my perspective, this is not a developing countries issue as, for example, there are still clearly evident barriers to technological innovations in the US based more on social and cultural biases and not economics per se. This is where the learning sciences can make substantive contributions over the coming decade and beyond.

Martin J. Packer

We should not think of technology only in terms of the internet and fast computers. Oral language is a technology, one that humans invented hundreds of thousands of years ago, yet it is still today one of the most flexible and powerful technologies that we have. (This is the central point of Daniel Dor’s book, The Instruction of Imagination.) In this sense, every human interaction in which learning takes place (which is pretty much all of them!) involves technology. In addition, every human community is involved in innovation in the technologies that it makes use of. The internet is certainly a transformational technology, providing dramatically more democratic access to information and new forms of communication, but it is not the first and it will not be the last such technology. The learning sciences has relevance for all human communities.

R. Keith Sawyer

Learning sciences research is not at all about technology. It’s the study of how people learn, any time, anywhere. We’ve studied how people learn in isolated, non-literate cultures around the world. We’ve studied apprenticeship in hands-on jobs like mechanics and meat cutters. We’ve studied how children learn through play, in preschool classrooms. We’ve studied how people learn unwritten social norms from informal conversation.

You shouldn’t use technology just because it’s the latest cool thing. The only reason to use a technology is if it offers unique opportunities for learning that aren’t available through other simpler, cheaper means. Learning sciences research is providing exactly this kind of knowledge: What is each new technology good for? What type of role can it play, as one component in a complex real-world learning environment?


Thank you for interest in our discussion! Please learn more about Reflections on the Learning Sciences by visiting www.cambridge.org.


About The Authors

R. Keith Sawyer

R. Keith Sawyer is the Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author or editor of fourteen books, inc...

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Michael A. Evans

Michael A. Evans is Associate Professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences at North Carolina State University, where he is also a Senior Research Fellow a...

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Martin J. Packer

Martin J. Packer is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. He is the author of The Structure of Moral Action, Changing Classes: Scho...

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