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Educational Media International, Vol. 43, No. 4, December 2006, pp.


The learning sciences: the very idea

Liam Rourkea* and Norm Friesenb
Educational 10.1080/09523980600926226 REMI_A_192539.sgm 0952-3987 Original Taylor 2006 0 4 43 liam.rourke@gmail.com LiamRourke 00000December and & Article Francis (print)/1469-5790 Francis Media 2006 Ltd International (online)

Technological University, Singapore;


Fraser University, Canada

Attempts to frame the study of teaching and learning in explicitly scientific terms are not new, but they have been growing in prominence. Journals, conferences, and centres of learning science are appearing with remarkable frequency. However, in most of these invocations of an educational science, science itself is understood largely in progressivist, positivistic terms. More recent theory, sociology, and everyday practice of science are ignored in favour of appeals to apparently idealized scientific rigour and efficiency. We begin this article by considering a number of examples of prominent scholarship undermining this idealization. We then argue that learning and education are inescapably interpretive activities that can only be configured rhetorically rather than substantially as science. We conclude by arguing for the relevance of a broader and self-consciously rhetorical/metaphorical conception of science, one that would include the possibility of an interpretive human science. Science et apprentissage: lide elle-mme Les tentatives visant enchsser ltude de lenseignement et de lapprentissage dans des termes explicitement scientifiques, ne sont pas nouvelles mais elles sont de plus en plus marques. Des revues, des confrences et des centres de science de lapprentissage apparaissent de plus en plus frquemment. Dans la plupart de ces invocations une science ducative le mot science est toutefois pris dans un sens largement positiviste et progressiste. On ignore en fait les thories, la sociologie et la pratique quotidienne de la science plus rcentes au profit dappels une apparente rigueur et efficacit scientifiques. Au dbut de la prsente tude, nous examinons un certain nombre dexemples des recherches de premier plan qui dmontent cette idalisation (e.g. Kuhn, 1996; Latour & Woolgar, 1979; Popper, 1999). Nous avanons ensuite lide que lapprentissage et lducation sont de faon incontournable des activits dinterprtation quon peut considrer comme science non dans leur substance mais seulement dun point de vue rhtorique. Dans notre conclusion nous insistons sur la pertinence dune conception plus large, ouvertement rhtorique et mtaphorique de la science, conception qui incluerait la possibilit dune science humaine explicative. Die Wissenschaft vom Lernen: Die eigentliche Idee Bestrebungen, das Studium von Lehren und Lernen in umfassende wissenschaftliche Begriffe einzupassen sind nicht neu, aber sie sind an Bedeutung gewachsen. Zeitschriften, Konferenzen und Studiencenter befassen sich damit in bemerkenswerter Regelmigkeit. Allerdings werden in den meisten dieser Aufrufe von Erziehungswissenschaften die Wissenschaft selbst meist als fortschrittlich und positivistisch verstanden. Neuere Theorien, soziologische Erkenntnisse und tgliche praktische wissenschaftliche Erfahrungen werden zugunsten angeblicher wissenschaftlicher Strenge und Effizienz nicht zur Kenntnis genommen. Zu Beginn dieses Beitrags werden wir etliche Beispiele prominenter Wissenschaft betrachten, die diese Idealisierung unterminieren (z.B. Kuhn, * Corresponding author. Learning Sciences Lab, 1 Nanyang Walk, Singapore 616636. Email: liam.rourke@gmail.com ISSN 0952-3987 (print)/ISSN 1469-5790 (online)/06/04027114 2006 International Council for Educational Media DOI: 10.1080/09523980600926226

272 L. Rourke and N. Friesen

1996 ; Latour & Woolgar, 1979; Popper, 1999). Daraufhin argumentieren wir, dass Lernen und Erziehung unausweichlich interpretative Aktivitten sind, die eher nur rhetorisch denn substantiell als Wissenschaft dargestellt werden knnen. Wir schlieen damit, dass wir fr die Relevanz eines breiten und gehemmteren rhetorisch/metaphorischen Wissenschaftskonzepts eintreten, eines, das auch der Mglichkeit einer interpretativen Humanwissenschaft verpflichtet ist.

Introduction In 1781, Kant (17241804) surveyed the advances of mathematicians and geometers, and he compared their progress to the work of the philosophers with woe. He characterized all of metaphysics to that point as random groping and longed for certain, progressive knowledge (Kant, 1781/2003, p. 17). In the late 1980s, a similar mood took hold among a group of educational researchers. Those who had embraced cognitive science felt their approach presented, as last, a way beyond the random groping of previous research on teaching and learning. Its certain and progressive nature, moreover, would lead to robust improvements to educational practice (e.g. Bereiter & Scardemalia, 1987; Schank, 1990; Kolodner, 1991; Chi, 1992). In 2002, this burgeoning group coalesced into the International Society of the Learning Sciences. The Journal of the Learning Sciences (JLS) is its principal forum, a handbook is forthcoming (Sawyer, 2006), and a handful of learning science graduate programs has popped up around the world. In this article we critique the effort to reconstruct educational inquiry as learning science. In it, we address four questions: 1) What is science, generally considered? 2) What is learning science? 3) Is science something to which all educational researchers should aspire? 4) What might we do instead? In addressing these questions, we argue that: 1) current understandings and practices of science, as revealed by natural scientists, philosophers, historians, and sociologists of science, are quite different from the nostalgic version held by those most committed to a learning science; 2) relapsing into a positivistic approach to the study of human action ignores major intellectual movements of the twentieth century; and 3) movements under way in this century, including phronetic (i.e. socially responsible) social science, hermeneutic psychology, and complexity theory, offer more promising ways to understand and affect educational practice.

Science To understand the current push for a learning science, we are forced to rehearse a story that was told and retold frequently in the latter part of the twentieth century. The story begins with a listing of the attributes of an orthodox understanding of science and ends after each attribute has been abandoned as it has been scrutinized by philosophers, by sociologists, and, in many cases, by scientists themselves. For western chroniclers, the story of the scientific enterprise often begins in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, and its function is to help us distinguish the Dark Ages from the Age of Enlightenment. In the former era, knowing and acting were informed by recourse to sacred texts and their interpreters. In the latter era, these endeavours came to be founded on increasingly formalized and accountable processes of observation, representation, and verification. In this classical formulation, scientists had privileged access to the natural world, a world that was

The learning sciences: the very idea 273 objective or pre-existing. Employing an agreed-upon methodology, these trained practitioners described and explained the phenomena that they discovered, and this enabled them to predict and modify outcomes. Learning science To what extent do these principles reflect the understanding of science propounded by learning scientists? As we await a canonical text and codified terminology (e.g. a handbook of learning science), we will induce this understanding through a survey of some of their practices. Because science is often defined, at its root, in terms of the scientific method, we look for this understanding in the methods of the learning sciences. Learning scientists employ several methods of inquiry, most of which have been borrowed from other fields and adapted to educational concerns. One method, however, is emerging within and is unique to the learning sciences. It is referred to variously as design research (Reeves, 2000; Collins et al., 2004; Kelly, 2004; Wang & Reeves, 2004), design experiments (Brown, 1992; Collins, 1992; di Sessa & Cobb, 2004), design-based research (Barab & Squire, 2004; Dede, 2004), or developmental research (Ritchie & Nelson, 1996; van den Akker, 1999). Design-based research (DBR)the term we settled on for this articleand learning science are reflections of each other or mutually constitutive in the way that ethnography is of cultural anthropology or that conversation analysis is of ethnomethodology. As with science, it is difficult to locate a concise, consensual definition of DBR. Separately, authors attend either to its goals (Collins et al., 2004), to its epistemological commitments (di Sessa & Cobb, 2004), or to its procedures (Kelly, 2004). Where these discussions overlap, there are tensions. To move our discussion forward, we offer our general and somewhat awkward definition: DBR is a method of inquiry whose goal is to contribute equally to educational practice and learning theory through formative case studies of interventions in naturalistic settings. Formalization of the method began with publications in 1992 by Collins and Brown, and much of our analyses will focus on Browns germinal and prescient article. Brown trained as an experimental psychologist in the 1960s and had engaged subsequently in tremendously influential programs of educational research. She moved across her career from behavioural to cognitive concerns, and her early research designs embodied the social sciences interpretation of natural science: a) experimental and quasi-experimental designs, which assured internal and external validity; b) laboratory studies, which allowed control and manipulation of variables; c) formulation and testing of hypotheses deduced from theories, which allowed advancement on prior work; and d) reliable and valid data collection procedures analyzed statistically, which demonstrated the experimenters detachment from the pre-existing reality under investigation. Eventually, several problems gave rise to discontent with these strictures. First, across attempts to conduct a social science, many researchers realized that their endeavours fell short on many of the defining criteria of the scientific method. For instance, Brown (1992) acknowledged that unlike the natural sciences, much of educational research was not progressive. That is, for a short time and within a particular educational research community, successive studies build on previous ones. However, after brief interludes of progress, new theoretical perspectives take over,

274 L. Rourke and N. Friesen accompanied by new questions, research designs, and measurement instruments. These shifts derail the progressive sequence. Similarly, Brown (1992) questioned the utility of a reductionist approach to educational inquiry, which is also central to the orthodox understanding of the scientific method. Reflecting on her studies of educational practice, Brown painted a holistic, rather than reductionist, picture: Classroom life is synergistic, she declared:
Aspects of it that are often treated independently, such as teacher training, curriculum selection, testing, and so forth actually form part of a systematic whole. Just as it is impossible to change one aspect of the system without creating perturbations in others, so too it is difficult to study any one aspect independently from the whole operating system. (Brown, 1992, p. 143)

In addition to these problems that arise when imposing methods from the physical sciences on social phenomena, Brown (1992) described further problems in imposing the methods of social science on educational phenomena. The quasi-experimental research designs that Campbell and Stanley (1963) proposed as the social scientists response to the experimental designs of the physical scientists are one example. In her attempts to enhance learning theory and practice, Brown found that the antiseptic and contrived environments of the laboratory were fundamentally altering the constructs she wished to study. Moreover, the principles of teaching and learning derived from these studies did not transfer well to classrooms. However, moving research out of the lab and into the classrooms, one encountered conditions anathema to objectivity and reliability. As a reflective practitioner with a genuine interest in the welfare of students and teachers, Brownand subsequently many educational researchersfound themselves studying teaching and learning in ways that systematically violated the tenets of social science research (cf. Campbell & Stanley, 1963; Cook & Campbell, 1979). As Brown lamented, My training was that of a classic learning theorist prepared to work with subjects (rats, children, sophomores), in strictly controlled laboratory settings. Those methods are not readily transported to the research activities I currently oversee (1992, p. 141). Contributors to a recent JLS issue on DBR continue to grapple with the epistemological, methodological and moral issues that originally affected Brown over a decade ago. In this struggle, design-based researchers traverse the line dividing two distinct orientations toward research: post-positivism (e.g. Cook & Campbell, 1979) and interpretivism (e.g. Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Post-positivists esteem the values and processes of science that we described previously, but recognize that there will be some slippage in the ability to realize these ideals when one studies human, agentive phenomena rather than natural phenomena. Post-positivists admit that the judgement of the researcher plays a role in interpreting the results of experiments, and they have ritualized methods for keeping in check this bias, subjectivity, or error (Malhotra, 1994). Interpretivists, on the other hand, argue that this same interpretation on the part of the researcher is not an incidental or undesirable process, but is one that is both unavoidable as well as central and foundational. Any study of human action, they argue, is the active interpretation of phenomena that are themselves intentional and consequently well beyond the realm of the unproblematically objective. The oscillation of design-based researchers between these two very different positions is widely evident in their writing. In the JLS special issue, readers encounter characterizations of

The learning sciences: the very idea 275 DBR as an interpretivist, constructivist endeavour, but they are quickly referred to footnotes that return them to post-positivistic touchstones. Barab and Squire (2004), for instance, offer the following description of DBR:
DBR focuses on understanding the messiness of real-world practice, with context being a core part of the story and not an extraneous variable to be trivialized. Further DBR involves flexible design revision, multiple dependent variables, and capturing social interaction. In addition, participants are not subjects assigned to treatments but instead treated as co-participants in both the design and even the analysis. The focus is on characterizing situations as opposed to controlling variables. (Barab & Squire, 2004, p. 5)

But hastily, they direct readers to this accompanying footnote:

It is important to note that this is not meant to deride the importance of traditional psychological methods Design-based researchers should be asking how their claims would benefit from more rigorous testing within laboratory-based contexts. (Barab & Squire, 2004, p. 5)

Similar vacillations between programmatic declaration and countervailing qualification appear throughout the special issue and elsewhere in related studies and discussions. Such researchers put themselves in a double bind, a term invoking not only paradox, but schizophrenic inconsistency (Bateson et al., 1956): every move toward a deeper understanding of local practices is a move away from reliable, valid measurement and generalization. Conversely, assertions about generalizability, objectivity, and scientific validity of findings remove them from their origin in situated, local, and authentic practice. In all but one article in the special issue (Dede, 2004), we sense a desire to retain scientific terminology and the esteem, the hope of certainty, and the pursuant funding that it entails while letting go of the scientific method and its epistemological, methodological, and procedural commitments. Critiques of science by philosophers and historians of science Forty-three years after Kant (1781) offered his critique, Auguste Compte extended the vision: I believe that I shall succeed in having it recognized that there are laws as well-defined for the development of human species as for the fall of a stone (Compte, 1974, cited in Frankel & Wallen, 2000, p. 431). Two centuries after this proposal for a social science put forward by the self-titled Pope of Positivism, efforts to formulate the equivalent of the law of gravity for one area of human activityteaching and learninghave been elusive. Prior to the pragmatic critiques of science offered by researchers such as Brown (1992), who was interested in human activities, foundational objections were being posed by philosophers, historians, and sociologists who studied science. One of these critics, philosopher Karl Popper (1959, 1963), took issue with the assertion that empirical verification distinguished science from other modes of inquiry. He argued that no number of supportive experimental outcomes could confirm a theory once and for all, and instead, proposed falsifiability as a more apt criterion for scientific truth. Neatly summing up the difference, Einstein purportedly remarked, No amount of experimentation can prove me right, but a single experiment can prove me wrong. Subsequently, Feyerabend (1975), a student of Poppers, pointed out that few theories are consistent with all experimental tests. Again, Einstein colloquializes the issue for us: If the

276 L. Rourke and N. Friesen facts dont fit the theory; change the facts. Verification and falsification were categorical distinctions between scientific and other types of inquiry. Their dismissal was consequential. Even more consequential, however, were the challenges raised by another of Poppers (1959, 1963) successors, Thomas Kuhn (1996), who questioned the progressive nature of scientific knowledge and its fundamental independence from its objects of study. Kuhn argued that scientific knowledge is cumulative only in a mundane or even accidental sense. Significant developments are revolutionary, he demonstrated, not evolutionary, and they reflect dramatic breaks that are incompatible with previous research programmes. Kuhns (1996) analysis also presents a challenge for another central tenet of sciencethat the natural phenomena it investigates are pre-existing, having a life apart from scientists interest in them. Kuhns tack was to draw on a concept rooted in structural linguistics: paradigm. Kuhn employed the term to reveal the arbitrary, contextual, and consensual meaning that objects have for an interested community pursuing a common goal. He then characterized these paradigms as having the tendency to undergo a seismic shift, in which one consensual frame of reference replaces another, and an area of scientific inquiry undergoes a suddenrather than progressive or cumulativechange. Learning science paradigms: shift happens A number of aspects of Poppers (1959, 1963) and Kuhns (1996) understandings of scientific paradigms can be readily illustrated by a cursory examination of two prominent attempts to understand teaching and learning in scientific terms: behaviourism and cognitive science. The first of these, behaviourism, had as an explicit goal to make psychologya discipline at the time associated with non-experimental introspective methodsinto a real science. It proposed to do so by emphasizing empirically and experimentally verifiable evidence at the expense of any theories or impressions about the mind or mental states. In this sense, behaviourism can be seen as taking Poppers insistence on falsifiability literally and seriously: the only valid knowledge available to psychological researchers, as the name behaviourism itself suggests, comes from behaviour and from stimuli. Claims about the role of the mind, about thought, or about free will cannot be falsified, and are therefore outside the bounds of a scientific psychology. As a consequence, research questions, problems and possible answers that this paradigm led researchers to were about ways of effectively shaping behaviour through conditioning and reinforcement. Educational research itself was understood in terms of the observation of persistent changes in behaviour through conditioning. Teaching was conceptualized as the provision of rewards for the successive approximation of target behaviours, and learning came to be understood as an enduring behavioural change achieved through these processes. The influence of this powerful paradigm lives on in our understandings of the importance of positive reinforcement or stimulating environments in fostering learning. The ability of this paradigm to satisfy the consensual pursuit of scientific psychology reached its limit quite abruptly in its attempt to account for language learning. In the late 1950s, linguist Noam Chomsky (1959) argued persuasively that the ability of children to learn the vocabularies and grammar of their native language without formal instruction could not be explained through the laborious repetition of stimulus and response. As an alternative, Chomsky posited the existence of inherent, generative mechanisms of the minda conjecture expanded to become the

The learning sciences: the very idea 277 founding hypothesis of the shifting psychological paradigm (e.g. see Bechtel et al., 1998). This paradigm, cognitivism, posits that computational structures, mechanisms and processes in the mind can be known, and they can be the subject of scientific investigation by being modelled through the use of computer hardware and software. Cognitivism, in other words, proceeds from the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it (McCarthy et al., 1955). This powerful hypothesis served as the basis for new and interdisciplinary orientations in linguistics (structural), computer science (artificial intelligence), philosophy (of mind), and explicitly cognitive orientations in neuroscience and education. Together, these were known as the cognitive sciencesconstituting what has been called a cognitive paradigm (e.g. De Mey, 1992). This paradigm, in clear ascendancy in educational research since the 1970s, has its own way of configuring educational research and practice. Learning is seen as changes in the way information is processed, represented and structured in the mind, and teaching becomes the effective support of these computational mental operations. Research, in turn, is centred around the discovery of mechanisms and processes such as those identified by Chomsky, and is also focused on computational modelling of such constructs as a kind of existence proof for these ideas (Gardner, 1987, p. 40). Cognitive science has produced ideas such as long- and short-term memory, or the educational value of advanced organizers which remain with us today. Recently, however, the cognitivist paradigm has itself shown signs of shift: post-cognitivist and anti-cognitivist schools of research and clinical psychology (e.g. Potter, 2000) have emerged over the last two decades. Within education itself, constructivist and situated variations on this paradigm have gained popularityvariations which are based on sociological, ethnographic and anthropological assumptions that differ radically from the a-social, mechanistic orientation of cognitivism in its early stages (e.g. Pea, 1994; Greeno, 1998; Salomon, 1998). It is in this context that the learning sciencesas an eclectic amalgam of schools and approaches appear to be gradually taking the place of the more monolithic scientific paradigm provided by cognitivism. Critiques of science by sociologists Although the recent emergence of the learning sciences can certainly be understood as the latest in a procession of paradigms to gain prominence in educational research, it can also be understood in slightly different terms. These terms are also offered by the philosophy and sociology of sciencespecifically by more recent developments in the analysis of science as an everyday affair engaged in by people working in specific socio-historical contexts. Whereas philosophers and historians of science such as Popper (1959, 1963), and Feyerabend (1975) and others (e.g. Quine, 1961; Lakatos, 1970, 1976) dealt with science as an abstract concept, Kuhns (1996) work precipitated an analysis of science specifically as sets of quotidian, situated and value-laden practices and contexts. This move was advanced by sociologists for whom the contingent nature of scientific procedures and the interpretive character of scientific facts were obvious. Latour (1987, 1988, 1992, 1999, 2005; Latour & Woolgar, 1979), for instance, employed ethnographic methods to study scientists at work. During prolonged engagements in the laboratories of primatologists and neuroendocrinologists, he witnessed an approach to inquiry that was very different from the disinterested, logical, and methodical reproduction of nature

278 L. Rourke and N. Friesen still dominant in orthodox understandings of the scientific endeavour. Like Feyerabend (1975) (and Lakatos, 1970, 1976), he dismissed the notion that theories stand and fall on the outcome of a single experiment. Rarely does an experiment provide anything more than inconclusive data, he observed. He was equally unconvinced that the acceptance or rejection of scientific theories is decided entirely on evidence or reason. Others, such as Knorr-Cetina (1983, 1999), Gilbert and Mulkay (1984), and Woolgar (1988) supported Latours (2005) interpretations with similar types of studies. They argued that the objects of scientific study are socially constructed (to use a term now prominent in a number of educational and sociological research contexts) in the lab, and that have no existence outside the instruments that measure them and the minds that interpret them. By the latter half of the twentieth century, any idealized notions of science and the scientific method as unquestionably privileged or impartial were in a troubled state. A picture of the natural sciences as not always, not only, or simply not progressive, objective, and explicitly logical prompted reflection among those interested in understanding human action and learning. This group, as Brown (1992) describes so well, were making major epistemological and pragmatic sacrifices in order to adhere to scientific principles, but these principles seemed more and more illusory. Lagemann (2000) offers one possible rationale for this debilitative commitment. She demonstrates that the commitment to validity, objectivity and other trappings of natural science is a longstanding attempt by educational researchers to gain respectability and legitimacy. Flyvberg (2003) for one is pessimistic about this ever materializing, and he grounds his pessimism in a recounting of the recent science wars. He reminds readers of physicist Alan Sokals successful attempt to have a bogus article peer-reviewed and published in a leading social science journal. Of the many issues raised by the hoax, Flyvberg focuses on how it revealed the disdainful and dismissive attitudes that many hard scientists have for their soft kin. He quotes from a Harvard biologist who cautions, In pretending to a kind of knowledge that it cannot achieve, social science can only engender the scorn of natural scientists (Lewonton, 1995, p. 28, cited by Flyvberg, 2003, p. 1). A further explanation for educational researchers detrimental commitment to the scientific method is found in a tangible correlate of esteem and respect: funding. In 2003, Burkhardt and Schoenfeld (2003) compared research funding in fields such as science, engineering, and electronics, which they pegged at 5%15% of their budgets, with funding for educational research, which they calculated was less than 0.01% of their budgets. Commenting on these figures, they noted wryly that this is considerably less than Pfeifer spends on R&D in its pet food division. Sroufe (1997) makes the connection between the perceived legitimacy of educational research and funding by quoting from a section of the 1997 Presidents Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology: Education research is applied and anecdotal and permits gleaning to support ones perspective (Presidents Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology [PCAST], 1997, p. 102, cited in Sroufe, 1997, p. 26). Therefore, as Sroufe reports incredulously, PCAST suggested that an outside committee, composed of unemployed graduates from science, maths, and engineering programmes, be enlisted to conduct educational research. Nonetheless, it is difficult to accept the argument that educational research needs to be more scientific if it is to receive more funding in our current Zeitgeist. To do so, we have to ignore the

The learning sciences: the very idea 279 fact that a growing number of Americans do not believe in Darwins theory of evolution through natural selection (Orr, 2005), and that the Bush administration, currently the ultimate arbiter of this funding, is regularly characterized as distorting science, stacking the deck against science (Philipkoski, 2004a,b), misusing science, suppressing scientific analyses (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2004, 2005), and so on. A final rationale for the devotion to the scientific method is the hope nestled within sciences superordinate term positivism, or as Toulmin (1990) characterizes it, the quest for certainty. That hope, expressed by Kant (1781/2003) in the introduction to our article, and later by Compte (1974, cited in Frankel & Wallen, 2000, p. 431), found its way into education in Royces (1891) contribution to the inaugural edition of the journal Educational Review. His article was titled Is There a Science of Education?, and Lagemann (2002) suggests that the answer he offered was something like, no, but there should be. Exactly 100 years later, the JLS began in the same manner. In its inaugural issue, the editor presents a list of problems with education, some dubious solutions, and writes:
We simply do not have sufficiently concise theories of learning to be able to tailor curricula to the natural way that kids learn. Our best teachers follow their intuitions and provide wonderful opportunities for our kids, but something more concrete than intuition is necessary A major goal of the [JLS] is to foster new ways of thinking about learning and teaching that will allow cognitive science disciplines to have an impact on the practice of education. We are interested in publishing articles that have the potential to make real world contributions. (Kolodner, 1991, pp. 46) Fourteen years later, this goal of convincingly uniting a science of education with its everyday application remains. As an example, promotional literature for the upcoming International Conference of the Learning Sciences informs attendees: While learning scientists can present rich accounts of learning in complex contexts, convincing policy makers, teachers, and other researchers of the theoretical and practical value of our work is not a straightforward process. We must show impact at the local level while at the same time, work to have claims of more global significance. In other words, we must make clear that the learning sciences make a difference. (Seventh ICLS, pp. 34)

The promise of a natural science of education, whose findings and hypotheses would enable real world contributions and make a difference in everyday practice, apparently remains irresistible. However, clear and consistent evidence for such a science remains doubtful and unacknowledged, and the antics of the Bush administration are not the only example. Miller (1999) provides examples of conclusions developed from lengthy, well-funded research programmes that are consistently ignored or contravened by practice. The head of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) enthusiastically described the series of What Works pamphlets produced by OERI in the late 1980s, which synthesized robust research findings and presented them in an accessible way to practitioners. However, he lamented that, despite over half a million copies being distributed, few practitioners had put them to use or, worse still, had even heard of them (Kaestle, 1993). Our experiences have been similar. A couple of years ago one of us successfully bid on a government contract to conduct an evaluation of the use of Internet Protocol video conferencing in a few school districts. Briefly, our findings were no more enthusiastic than those presented by Fabos and Young (1999) in their substantive and highly critical review of similar applications, and we cautioned the government about expanding the programme. The day after we submitted our interim report, the government announced with

280 L. Rourke and N. Friesen fanfare six million dollars of funding to ensure that every school district in the province would have a video conferencing program (Alberta Government, 2004). We doubt there are experienced programme evaluators who have not had similar experiences. Experienced evaluators and researchers do not share the nave belief that information, collected in a disinterested manner, is used objectively to make rational decisions. More often, we suggest, information is often collected selectively to legitimize decisions that have already been made. Among a broad range of stakeholders in the educational process, there is a consensus: educational researchers for the most part have not been successful at emulating the processes, let alone outcomes, of natural scientists. Some, especially a growing community called learning scientists, argue that we should strive harder. If we do so, we will be able to develop robust theories and improve educational practice. We will gain legitimacy, and with it, funding. In this article, we have tried to demonstrate this argument is untenable. In the final sections, we describe some alternative approaches to inquiry, including interpretive and phronetic (i.e. socially responsible) educational research and development. What might we do instead? Many learning scientists descriptions of DBR indicate a gradual turn toward interpretivist approaches to educational inquiry (e.g. Brown, 1992; Barab & Squire, 2004). If this is also a turn away from post-positive commitmentswhich are in any case incommensurable with interpretivismthen it may also be seen as a most propitious shift of paradigms. As such, it may point to a different way of reconstituting educational research. This would be a way of understanding the study and improvement of learning and learning conditions not as a science that would deny the reality of its own social construction, but that would be explicitly aware of the sociological and other conditions that inform it. This research would leverage this awareness to its own advantage, and it would utilize ways of understanding the constructed, debatable, and interpretable nature of knowledge as a means of investigating its own subject matter. Such an approach would be associated with a number of methodologies and schools of thought. However, they all share the same underlying assumptions: that human phenomena, such as language, action and learning, cannot be sufficiently understood as the outcome of rulebound processes that can be predicted and controlled through research. These phenomena are instead understood as being in the realm of meaning and interpretation, rather than being subject to any ostensibly factual or scientific certainty. As such, human action, language and learning would be seen as necessarily occurring within a contextculture, society, institutions, history, groupsfrom which it cannot be separated. The nature of this context, moreover, is such that it can never be exhaustively articulated, modelled, or even understood. As a further result of this fact, research cannot be understood as occurring at an objective remove from its object or its subject matter. The observation and manipulation of the researcher are themselves interpretable acts occurring in the context of the interpretable dimensions of culture, history, and other domains of human meaning and action. Examples of this kind of research are provided by hermeneutic and post-cognitive forms of psychology (e.g. Potter, 2000; Martin & Sugarman, 2001); phenomenology and ethnomethodology (e.g. Dourish, 2001); and critical, historical, and genealogical methods (e.g. Holzkamp, 1992).

The learning sciences: the very idea 281 A different take on DBR: phronetic research Despite their mutually exclusive character, learning scientists are hesitant to relinquish the postpositivistic elements of DBR while maintaining its interpretivist ones. Together, they can be seen as providing a sympathetic balance that would allow researchers to understand local practices while contributing to generalizable learning theories. This harmonious intersection of goals was presented persuasively in Stokes (1997) book Pasteurs Quadrant. The eponymous quadrant refers to one cell of a two-by-two matrix in which the goals of pure research are fused with the goals of applied research. The matrix has been so influential in the learning sciences that it requires little explanation (e.g. Schoenfeld, 1999; National Academy Press, 2000; Reeves, 2000). However, this construction is deficient in an important way. The division of knowledge-seeking goals into two types originates with Aristotle (384322 BC). He proposed (Aristotle, 1976) that some of our efforts are directed toward pure research, or episteme, while others are directed toward applied research, or techne. However, Stokes (1997) differentiation between pure and applied science disregards a critical third category of knowledge proposed by Aristotle: phronesis. Aristotle defined this type of knowledge as a true state, reasoned, and capable of action with regard to things that are good or bad for man (cited in Flyvberg, 2003, p. 2). The goal of a phronesis, as Flyvberg explains is to help restore social science to its classical position as a practical, intellectual activity aimed at clarifying the problems, risks, and possibilities we face as humans and societies, and at contributing to social and political praxis (p. 4). These two alternativesa wholly interpretivist and a phronetic approach to researchare already incipient, we think, in minor shifts from dominant orientations in learning science. Such approaches may certainly appear unscientific when compared to some of the methodological and other strictures that have been associated with the natural sciences and their methodology. However, this may simply be due to a very narrow understanding of science, not inherent to the pursuit itself, but reinforced by the way the term is used in many English-language contexts. In other linguistic contexts, the terms science and scientific are used to designate the broadly interpretive critical, hermeneutic, and discursive methods enumerated aboveand other possible approaches as well. These are often referred to as the Human Sciences. Such a designation would be appropriate to the kind of self-aware, consciously interpretive inquiry that is informed by twentieth-century theories of sciencerather than one that harks back to the time of Kant and Compte. References
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