‘The Science of Learning’ report is hardly that …

In late September, Deans for Impact a US-based organization “committed to improving student-learning outcomes by transforming the field of educator preparation” released The Science of Learning, a report aimed at teachers-in-training. Ostensibly summarizing insights about student learning from cognitive science, SoL reifies these into six mission-critical strategies for novice teachers to apply in the service of higher learning outcomes.

Characterized as a “resource to teacher-educators, new teachers and anyone in the education profession who is interested in our best scientific understanding of how learning takes place”, The Science of Learning is hardly that, but rather a 10-page, jello salad DISAPPOINTMENT. Bearing the hallmarks of ‘assembly by committee’, it is tedious, uninspiring and myopic in scope.

Far from providing a “core of what educators should know about learning,” with insights from cognitive science, the SoL  selectively reflects points about learning the way one might pose conclusions about the nature of an elephant by solely examining a flapping ear, or a tusk (for deeper reflection the reader is referred to ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’ by John Godfrey Saxe).

And one of its points, the 6th, illuminates nothing at all but seeks only to negate a few myths about learning, as if this is vital for new educators to understand. “Students do not have different ‘learning styles,’ and “Novices and experts cannot think in all the same ways,” being two of its pronouncements.
Yet, these are not iron-clad rules, they reflect subjects that are under exploration and evolution in the domain of learning, and educators-in-training should understand that, as well as a number of other aspects of learning that are presently under investigation.

Such as the role of personal learning biography – exploring where a student has had previous learning success, and why and how. And also the role of one’s own ‘learnscape’ – the personal conditions that deeply influence one’s learning potential, such as lifestyle habits, relationships and attitudes about learning.

Nope, the SoL omits these points, and many other salient insights into learning, too.

We live in an incredible time when insights into learning from neurology, psychology and sociology are pouring into science and helping to re-shape and re-invigorate what we know about this field. Learning is BIG! not narrow and circumscribed by a thin glaze of empirical evidence from cognitive science. This is what needs to be shared with up-and-coming educators and also administrators, parents and learners. John Dewey had many more insights into human learning a hundred years ago, and more recently, evidence about the grand nature of learning has come from social, motivational and positive psychology, holisitic learning, neuroscience, pediatric psychiatry and other domains.

Deans for Impact – I’m sorry to say your report the Science of Learning is very inadequate to the task and I would recommend teachers-in-training steer clear of it. It’s back to school for you.

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