Perimeter of the field: who’s
who and what’s up
Sciences cognitives et
2012, Conference at
Collège de France
- Institut d’études de
- Groupe Compas
Fondation La main à la
pâte (Académie des
training & ressources
French Research in
e at the
2008 SfN –
n Art &
n Art &
Perimeter of the field: the
Social sciences Robotics
Developmental Learning and
transfer studies technologies
psychology, ant design, wisdom
Perimeter of the field: the topics and
processes involved in
learning & teaching
tools for learning
involved in education &
impact of technologies
(Fischer et al. 2007)
– Human beings are unique in their ability to learn through schooling and
diverse kinds of cultural instruction.
– Education plays a key role in cultural transformations: it allows
members of a society, the young in particular, to efficiently acquire an
ever-evolving body of knowledge and skills that took thousands of years
– It is time for education, biology, and cognitive science to join together
to create a new science and practice of learning and development. The
remarkable new tools of biology and cognitive science open vast
possibilities for this emerging field.
(Meltzoff et al. 2009)
– Homo sapiens is also the only species that has developed formal ways
to enhance learning: teachers, schools, and curricula.
– Neuroscientists are beginning to understand the brain mechanisms
underlying learning and how shared brain systems for perception and
action support social learning. Machine learning algorithms are being
developed that allow robots and computers to learn autonomously.
New insights from many different fields are converging to create a new
science of learning that may transform educational practices.
(Sawyer 2008, p. xi)
Learning sciences is an interdisciplinary field that studies teaching and
Learning scientists study learning in a variety of settings, including not only
the more formal learning of school classrooms but also the informal
learning that takes place at home, on the job, and among peers. The goal
of the learning sciences is to better understand the cognitive and social
processes that result in the most effective learning, and to use this
knowledge to redesign classrooms and other learning environments so
that people learn more deeply and more effectively.
The sciences of learning include cognitive science, educational psychology,
computer science, anthropology, sociology, information sciences,
neurosciences, education, design studies, instructional design, and other
• (Bransford et al 2000, p. 4)
– Research from cognitive psychology has increased understanding of the
nature of competent performance and the principles of knowledge
organization that underlie people's abilities to solve problems in a wide
variety of areas
– Developmental researchers have shown that young children understand a
great deal about basic principles of biology and physical causality, about
number, narrative, and personal intent,
– Research on learning and transfer has uncovered important principles for
structuring learning experiences that enable people to use what they have
learned in new settings.
– Work in social psychology, cognitive psychology, and anthropology is
making clear that all learning takes place in settings that have particular
sets of cultural and social norms and expectations and that these settings
influence learning and transfer in powerful ways.
– Neuroscience is beginning to provide evidence for many principles of
learning that have emerged from laboratory research, and it is showing
how learning changes the physical structure of the brain and, with it, the
functional organization of the brain.
– Emerging technologies are leading to the development of many new
opportunities to guide and enhance learning that were unimagined even a
few years ago.
(Simon 1988, p. 67)
Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing
situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces
material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes
remedies for a sick patient… The natural sciences are concerned with how
things are …. Design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things
ought to be, with devising artifacts to attain goals.
Cognitive studies meet education
A NEW FIELD OF APPLIED RESEARCH TO
EDUCATION AND ITS PERIMETER
A BIT OF HISTORY & WHAT’S NEW
REASONS FOR FAVORING A GOOD ENCOUNTER
William James’ mild
William James 1899:
Talks to teachers on
Psychology – scientific vs
– Psychology ought certainly to give the teacher radical help. And yet I
confess that, acquainted as I am with the height of some of your
expectations, I feel a little anxious lest, at the end of these simple talks of
mine, not a few of you may experience some disappointment at the net
results. In other words, I am not sure that you may not be indulging
fancies that are just a shade exaggerated.
– That would not be altogether astonishing, for we have been having
something like a 'boom' in psychology in this country. Laboratories and
professorships have been founded, and reviews established. The air has
been full of rumors. The editors of educational journals and the arrangers
of conventions have had to show themselves enterprising and on a level
with the novelties of the day. Some of the professors have not been
unwilling to co-operate, and I am not sure even that the publishers have
been entirely inert. 'The new psychology' has thus become a term to
conjure up portentous ideas withal; and you teachers, docile and
receptive and aspiring as many of you are, have been plunged in an
atmosphere of vague talk about our science, which to a great extent
has been more mystifying than enlightening.
– There is nothing but the old psychology, which began in Locke’s time, plus
a little physiology of the brain and senses and the theory of evolution
– I say moreover that you make a great, a very great mistake, if you think
that psychology, being the science of the mind's laws, is something from
which you can deduce definite programs and schemes and methods of
instruction for immediate schoolroom use. Psychology is a science, and
teaching is an art; and sciences never generate arts directly out of
themselves. An intermediary inventive mind must make the application, by
using its originality.
– … the use of psychological principles certainly narrows the path for
experiments and trials. We know in advance, if we are
psychologists, that certain methods will be wrong, so our psychology
saves us from mistakes.
– It makes us, moreover, more clear as to what we are about. We gain
confidence in respect to any method which we are using as soon as we
believe that it has theory as well as practice at its back.
– it fructifies our independence, and it reanimates our interest, to see our
subject at two different angles,—to get a stereoscopic view, … to be
able, at the same time, to represent to ourselves the curious inner
elements of his mental machine
Thorndike 1910: The
contribution of psychology
The first to apply principles
of psychology to learning,
and to education.
His theories have been very
influential in education in
Laws of learning:
readiness, exercise, effect
– Psychology is the science that backs education, like agriculture depends on
– Just as the science and art of agriculture depend upon chemistry and
botany, so the art of education depends upon physiology and psychology.
– The foundation upon which education builds is the equipment of instincts
and capacity given by nature apart from training.
– Just as knowledge of the peculiar inheritance characteristic of any
individual is necessary to efficient treatment of him, so knowledge of the
unlearned tendencies of man as a species is necessary to efficient
planning for education in general.
– Psychology contributes to a better understanding of the aims of education
by defining them, making them clearer; by limiting them, showing us
what can be done and what can not; and by suggesting new features
that should be made parts of them.
– …in all cases psychology, by its methods of measuring knowledge and
skill, may suggest means to test and verify or refute the claims of any
– Experts in education studying the responses to school situations for the
sake of practical control will advance knowledge not only of the mind as
a learner under school conditions but also of the mind for every point of
– I hope that it is obvious and needless, and that the relation between
psychology and education is not, in the mind of any competent thinker, in
any way an exception to the general case that action in the world should
be guided by the truth about the world; and that any truth about it will
directly or indirectly, soon or late, benefit action.
J.B. Watson’s plan
Watson 1913: Psychology as
the behaviorist views it
Full-fledged behaviorism is a
reaction to the use of
introspection, to the absence
of controlled experiments, and
to the focus on consciousness
that characterized psychology
at the turn of the XX century
– Behaviorism had the aim of making of psychology a science that can be
– If psychology would follow the plan I suggest, the educator, the physician,
the jurist and the business man could utilize our data in a practical way, as
soon as we are able, experimentally, to obtain them.
– Those who have occasion to apply psychological principles practically
would find no need to complain as they do at the present time. Ask any
physician or jurist today whether scientific psychology plays a practical part
in his daily routine and you will hear him deny that the psychology of the
laboratories finds a place in his scheme of work. I think the criticism is
extremely just. One of the earliest conditions which made me dissatisfied
with psychology was the feeling that there was no realm of application
for the principles which were being worked out in content terms.
– The psychology which I should attempt to build up would take as a
starting point, first, the observable fact that organisms, man and animal
alike, do adjust themselves to their environment by means of hereditary
and habit equipments. These adjustments may be very adequate or they
may be so inadequate that the organism barely maintains its existence;
secondly, that certain stimuli lead the organisms to make the responses.
In a system of psychology completely worked out, given the response the
stimuli can be predicted; given the stimuli the response can be
– In experimental pedagogy especially one can see the desirability of
keeping all of the results on a purely objective plane. If this is done, work
there on the human being will be comparable directly with the work upon
animals. … We need to have similar experiments made upon man…
B.F. Skinner’s teaching
Skinner 1954: Teaching
Centrality of learning in
Theory of operant
Behaviorism allows to control
learning, not just describing it
– The learning process is now much better understood.
– Much of what we know has come from studying the behavior of lower
organisms, but the results hold surprisingly well for human subjects.
– The emphasis in this research has not been on proving or disproving
theories but on discovering and controlling the variables of which learning
is a function. This practical orientation has paid off, for a surprising degree
of control has been achieved.
– By arranging appropriate “contingencies of reinforcement,” specific forms
of behavior can be set up and brought under the control of specific classes
– The resulting behavior can be maintained in strength for long periods of
time. A technology based on this work has already been put to use in
neurology, pharmacology, nutrition, psychophysics, psychiatry, and
elsewhere. The analysis is also relevant to education. A student can be
“taught” in the sense that he is induced to engage in new forms of
behavior and in specific forms upon specific occasions.
(Bruer 1993 p. 3)
– In the mid 1950s, behaviorism was the prevailing orthodoxy in American
– In education, behaviorist learning theory emphasized arranging the
student’s environment so that stimuli occurred in a way that would instill
the desired stimulus‐response chains. Teachers would present lessons in
small, manageable pieces (stimuli), ask students to give answers
(responses), and then dispense reinforcement (preferably positive rather
than negative) until their students became conditioned to give the right
(Bransford et al. 2000 p. 6‐8)
– A limitation of early behaviorism stemmed from its focus on observable
stimulus conditions and the behaviors associated with those conditions.
This orientation made it difficult to study such phenomena as
understanding, reasoning, and thinking—phenomena that are of
paramount importance for education...
The cognitive revolution hits
1956 Cambridge MIT
Miller: The magic number 7
Chomsky: A review of B.F.
Skinner Verbal Behavior
Bruner: A study of thinking
1958 Herbert, Shaw, Simon:
Elements of a theory of human
1960 Harvard Center for Cognitive
Studies (Bruner & Miller)
Noam Chomsky: A review of BF Skinner Verbal Language
– One would naturally expect that prediction of the behavior of a complex
organism (or machine) would require, in addition to information about
external stimulation, knowledge of the internal structure of the
organism, the ways in which it processes input information and
organizes its own behavior.
– … Every time an adult reads a newspaper, he undoubtedly comes upon
countless new sentences which are not at all similar, in a simple, physical
sense, to any that he has heard before, and which he will recognize as
sentences and understand; he will also be able to detect slight distortions
– Talk of "stimulus generalization" in such a case simply perpetuates the
mystery under a new title.
– These abilities indicate that there must be fundamental processes at
work quite independently of "feedback" from the environment.
Jerome Bruner’s (cognitive)
process of education
Bruner 1960 The process of
1959 Woods Hole conference on
teaching science & mathematics
USA post-Sputnik era
Educational reforms: science
teaching & mathematics new
textbooks & methods
Jean Piaget’s constructivism
Piaget 1957: The construction of
reality in the child
Not directly interested in education
but in epistemology: the
construction of the representation of
reality by the means of the
processes of accomodation and
Proposed a staged development of
intelligence in the child starting from
sensorimotor and ending with
• Piaget (1955)
The successive study of concepts of object, space, causality, and time
has led us to the same conclusions: the elaboration of the universe
by sensorimotor intelligence constitutes the transition from a state
in which objects are centred about a self which believes it directs
them, although completely unaware of itself as subject, to a state in
which the self is placed, at least practically, in a stable world
conceived as independent of personal activity.
How is this evolution possible?
It can be explained only by the development of intelligence.
Intelligence progresses from a state in which accommodation to the
environment is undifferentiated from the assimilation of things to the
subject’s schemata to a state in which the accommodation of multiple
schemata is distinguished from their respective and reciprocal
To understand this process, which sums up the whole evolution of
sensorimotor intelligence, let us recall its steps, starting with the
development of assimilation itself.
In its beginnings, assimilation is essentially the utilisation of the
external environment by the subject to nourish his hereditary or
acquired schemata. It goes without saying that schemata such as
those of sucking, sight, prehension, etc., constantly need to be
accommodated to things, and that the necessities of this
accommodation often thwart the assimilatory effort.
But this accommodation remains so undifferentiated from the
assimilatory processes that it does not give rise to any special active
behaviour pattern but merely consists in an adjustment of the pattern
to the details of the things assimilated.
Hence it is natural that at this developmental level the external
world does nor seem formed by permanent objects, that
neither space nor time is yet organised in groups and objective
series, and that causality is not spatialised or located in things.
In other words, at first the universe consists in mobile and
plastic perceptual images centred about personal activity.
But it is self-evident that to the extent that this activity is
undifferentiated from the things it constantly assimilates to
itself it remains unaware of its own subjectivity; the external
world therefore begins by being confused with the sensations
of a self unaware of itself, before the two factors become
detached from one another and are organised correlatively.
On the other hand, in proportion as the schemata are
multiplied and differentiated by their reciprocal assimilations
as well as their progressive accommodation to the diversities of
reality, the accommodation is dissociated from assimilation
little by little and at the same time ensures a gradual
delimitation of the external environment and of the subject.
Lev Vygotsky’s role of
language and social
Vygotsky : The construction of
reality in the child
Role of social interaction in
Zone of proximal development
Link between development of
language and thinking
Then new things happen (at several levels):
accumulation of knowledge
(Simon 2000 p. 115)
– Exciting research in cognition today combines computer modeling with
neuropsychological studies of the functioning of the brain and with the
experimental study of human learning and problem solving.
– This research is helping to test and improve detailed theories of the human
symbolic processes used in learning and thinking and to build theories of
how skills and knowledge can be taught effectively and efficiently.
(Simon 1988, p. 116)
– We have new top-down research techniques that enable us to observe
and model the step-by-step progress of thinking and learning with
shorter and shorter steps, even on the scale of seconds and fractions of
– We have new bottom-up research techniques, such as magnetic
resonance imaging and single-cell recording, that enable us to study the
localization of the neural processes that occur during thought and
learning and to study the chemistry of neurons.
– With the help of these new tools, we are even beginning to forge links
between bottom-up and top-down advances, gaining glimpses of the
neurologic bases for human symbolic processes.
– Just as the revolution in molecular biology changed the whole face of
medicine by providing both new understanding of physiological
processes and new means of intervention when the processes are out
of kilter, so the revolution in the study of the mind, usually called the
cognitive revolution, is allowing us to enter a new era of human
learning and teaching.
– This era does not reject the practical knowledge that has built up over
millennia but greatly improves and enriches it. Good teachers and
good learners may be born, but they cannot reach their potential, or
anything close to it, without a deep understanding of the learning
processes and how to enhance them. We are becoming more and more
able to provide that understanding.
diversification of the
disciplines that study the mind
Cognitive studies meet education
A NEW FIELD OF APPLIED RESEARCH TO
EDUCATION AND ITS PERIMETER
A BIT OF HISTORY & WHAT’S NEW
REASONS FOR FAVORING A GOOD ENCOUNTER
societal changes translate into preoccupation for educational systems
Learning is a pervasive function but it is not always
• (Pinker 2002, p. 222)
– Education is neither writing on a blank slate nor
allowing a child's nobility to flower.
– Rather education is a technology that tries to make up
for what the human mind is innately bad at.
– Children don't have to go to school to learn to walk, talk,
recognize objects, or remember the personalities of their
friends even though these tasks are much harder than
reading, adding, or remembering dates in history...
– Because much of the content of education is not
cognitively natural, the process of mastering it may not
always be easy or pleasant, notwithstanding the mantra
that learning is fun... they are not necessarily motivated
in their cognitive faculties to unnatural tasks like formal
The human species has created a special technology for the
transmission of knowledge …
What the new field can do for education
• Help designing educational
tools & methods
- That are coherent with
the functioning of the
- Help evaluating and
- Scientific, experimental
• Provide a general
knowledge of the
human mind for
guiding daily actions
• Help avoid the