School & District Management

AERA: National Research Council to Probe What’s Changed About How People Learn

By Sarah D. Sparks — April 16, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


When the National Research Council released its landmark compendium of education and cognitive development research, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School in 1999, it touched only briefly on the underlying biology of cognition and the way technology might change how K-12 students were educated.

More than 15 years, a few social networks, and thousands of online courses later, the NRC wants to take another look at what we know about how people learn, in school and in life, in real time and online. At a symposium Thursday at the annual American Educational Research Association here, several researchers on the original report committee laid out plans for a new volume of the landmark study.

“What do we know now that we didn’t know then?” said James W. Pellegrino, a co-director of the University of Illinois’ Learning Sciences Research Institute. “We have a much richer knowledge of disciplinary learning. While How People Learn touched on neuroscience, it was at a very beginning, and we know so much more now about the social context of learning, the sociolinguistics. ... We have a much more sophisticated view now not just about technology but what technology says about the nature of learning and how it can progress.”

Two researchers on the original committee, Barbara Rogoff of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Penelope Peterson, the dean of education and social policy at Northwestern University, agreed with the need to update the landmark study, but voiced concern that its focus on new neuroscience and technology research would overlook new evidence on learners of diverse backgrounds.

Rogoff also worried the report could focus too heavily on high-profile subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and math. “Where the money is, is driving a lot of the research on what people learn,” she said. “Is this going to be about the science of learning, or the science of learning science? There’s always the danger even in places like the NRC of being very influenced by the elitism of fields that get funding, like STEM.”

Sujeeta Bhatt, who will lead the project for the NRC, said the group will hold four public meetings in Washington . to gather input from researchers and educators on the report: June 9-10 and August. 3-4 in 2015, and October 29-30 and January 19-20 in 2016. The final report is expected in 2017.

Robert Hauser of the NRC said How People Learn remains one of the group’s most influential reports, with 74,000 internet downloads and 156,000 print sales.

Photo:University of Illinois researcher James Pellegrino, center, discusses new studies of human cognition at a symposium on an update to the 1999 National Academies report, “How People Learn.” Pellegrino, Barbara Rogoff of the University of California, Santa Cruz, left, and Penelope Peterson of Northwestern University, right, all helped write the original study. Source: Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.