The Science of Learning

Unattributed (naturally), Deans for Impact, Oct 12, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I appreciate what these educators are trying to do, I really do, but you can't just cherry-pick studies you like and call it 'science'. The only way, really, to call something a 'science' is if it reflects a consensus of the researchers in the field. And 'consensus' means exactly that - it doesn't mean picking one theory over another, one frame of reference over another. Engineering is a science because nobody really questions the mathematics of forces and stresses. Chemistry is a science because there is only one list of elements, not several competing 'theories' of chemical reactions. And so on. And when you do this, you're engaged in some sort of political exercise, not science, for reasons unknown.

And so to this document. You can't simply cite 'facts' that a large percentage of the field (constructivists, say) argue are wrong. Like this, for example: "To learn, students must transfer information from working memory (where it is consciously processed) to long-term memory." Many theorists (including me) do not think learning is the same as a 'transfer of information' at all. Or this: "Information is often withdrawn from memory just as it went in." Aside from being expressed in something like baby-talk, the idea that we 'withdraw information' in no way expresses scientific consensus. And you can't say in one breath that there's no such thing as 'learning styles' and then that "novices and experts cannot think in the same ways." This document is full of pseudo-science, and should be rejected in its entirety. Here's the blog post. Via Annie Murphy Paul, who should know better.

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