NSF to Fund Centers on Science of Learning

Known as the science of learning, research into how people think, learn and remember draws from a variety of perspectives across psychology, including brain and behavior, cognition, learning, memory, perception, social psychology, and development. This field is poised for a major leap forward, thanks to a new program at the National Science Foundation. NSF has announced that it will establish three or four large-scale, long-term Science of Learning Centers.

The long-awaited SLC program, which was a victim of delays in the FY 2003 budget process, is seeking proposals that will extend the frontiers of knowledge on learning and create the intellectual, organizational, and physical infrastructure needed for the long-term advancement of learning research. Catalyst awards will also be made during the initial years of the program. These awards are designed to enable partnership-building and research activities leading to the creation of new Centers.

NSF’s Science of Learning program has two broad goals: improving our understanding of the learning process, and transferring that understanding into application. This will be facilitated via investigations in human-computer interactions, cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and other activity related to child learning and cognitive development. Other goals of the SLC program are to advance the frontiers of all the sciences of learning through integrated research; to connect this research to specific scientific, technological, educational, and workforce challenges; and to enable research communities that can capitalize on new opportunities and discoveries and respond to new challenges. The program is open to many possible approaches, placing high value on creativity, integration of theoretical and empirical work, innovative models of research and research transfer (including integration with educational practice), and inventive uses of technology.

APS has a long history of support for advancing the science of learning, dating back to the 1998 Santa Barbara Summit of Psychological Science Organizations, where representatives of more than 100 organizations agreed that there is a substantial scientific knowledge base on learning that should be brought to bear in education and training practices. APS subsequently organized an initiative on “Applying the Science of Learning,” which is co-chaired by Milton D. Hakel and Diane Halpern and funded by the Spencer Foundation and the Marshall-Reynolds Trust. Part of the ASL initiative has been to develop a research agenda and encourage federal support of the science of learning.

APS specifically supported the establishment of the NSF centers in testimony before Congress on the FY 2003 and FY 2004 NSF budget. “The basic challenge for both the science and education communities is this: How can we apply and extend our knowledge of how people think, learn and remember to improve education?” said APS Executive Director Alan Kraut. “We have the knowledge base and a critical mass of top-flight scientists to help solve the educational and learning issues that have been identified by the government as high priorities.” This support was echoed by the House appropriations committee in its FY03 budget report on NSF, which stated “the Committee recognizes that investment in basic, multidisciplinary research on learning is crucial to both successful educational reform and effective workforce development. In this regard, the Committee’s recommendation includes support for the NSF Science of Learning Centers.”

To learn more about the Science of Learning Program, visit the Web site at www.nsf.gov/home/crssprgm/slc.

Observer Vol.16, No.6 June, 2003

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