Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010
The environments in which we learn must evolve along with the technology that has transformed our world, and the field of learning sciences strives to enhance this understanding of the acquisition of knowledge and teaching. Learning sciences curriculums are devoted to preparing students for the decoding and improving human learning by designing and implementing innovations in learning. The field is perched on the cutting edge, incorporating multimedia, artificial intelligence and computer networks into progressive classroom curriculums.
Learning sciences courses examine the social, organizational and cultural aspects of education. Professor and recruitment chair Daniel Hickey, of the graduate learning sciences department at Indiana University Bloomington, tells GradSchools.com that the field enables society to “become better prepared to take on the new challenges in the 21st century.” While his learning sciences courses place emphasis on the technological aspects of the learning sciences, the field facilitates learning with and without technology.
Besides using technology as a learning tool, students will investigate the relationship between teaching and learning. They will work closely in collaboration with faculty and students to conduct research, as well as engage in apprenticeships to attain additional hands-on experience. Students will also interpret research, survey literature and apply theories to solve problems.
Learning sciences curriculums encompass cognitive science, psychology, computer science, anthropology and design. The interdisciplinary nature of the learning sciences accounts for why, according to Hickey, graduate students enrolled in learning sciences curriculums come from a variety of academic backgrounds. Hickey says that while an undergraduate degree in education is helpful, it is by no means necessary to be a successful learning sciences grad student.
Students do need to possess interest in the evolution of learning over time, as well as in the innovations which have made that evolution possible. “Learning is a science that is changing so rapidly. We equip our graduates with skills that are not obsolete,” says Hickey. Students enrolled in learning sciences courses will enhance their communication, critical thinking, analytical, technical and interpretive skills as they discover how people learn and its relation to the design of learning environments.
The learning sciences creates new learning environments through the use of digital media, games and other interactive technology. Students can choose from such learning sciences concentration as educational design and the application of social science theory, and will employ the newest hardware and software. Learning sciences courses are centered on projects and real-world challenges. Hickey says that students can expect "a mix of structured classes, research labs, apprenticeship credits and advance seminars."
Because of the evolutionary nature of the learning sciences, course content is regularly updated. Cognition is a major area of learning sciences concentration, as it is studied in its material, social and cultural contexts. Students are likely to take classes that cover macrocognition, the psychology of learning and instruction, and development and learning. Other learning sciences courses will involve the theory and philosophy of learning science, research methods and inquiry.
Students studying in learning sciences curriculums will understand the philosophical and historic foundations of educational technology, instructional media application, needs analysis and assessment. They will study intelligent tutoring systems, computer-supported collaborative environments, and adaptive systems. In their learning sciences courses, students will make use of learning algorithms, real-time assessments and digital libraries.
Learning sciences careers are found in exciting and dynamic fields. The theoretical knowledge students gain in their learning sciences courses, combined with the research and hands-on experiences, prepare them for a unique occupation. According to Hickey, students “learn skills they will need for jobs that are just beginning to exist.” He indicates that there are more and more learning sciences curriculums being established, which will ultimately lead to new learning sciences careers.
Those who earn a masters degree in learning sciences can obtain employment in schools, software companies, consulting firms and financial institutes. Hickey says that many of his graduates go on to learning sciences careers as entry-level associates at the university or corporate level, while others forge ahead to earn a PhD degree in learning sciences. Graduates with masters degrees in learning sciences can earn about $55,000 as human factors engineers. Educational designers and school technicians can command $45,000 per year.
Earning a PhD degree in the learning sciences, as in most fields, will enable graduates to enter higher-level, more lucrative learning sciences careers. They tend to be employed by universities, government agencies and the private sector as researchers. An educational researcher with a PhD degree in learning sciences can expect to make about $60,000 annually.
Students of learning sciences curriculums have the opportunity to become pioneers in a fertile career field. As technology is enhanced and society continues to evolve, the world will be in need of experts who can construct new environments in which to learn. Hickey says: “The employment outlook is excellent. The learning sciences is a hot, growing field that is looking for new blood.”