Thursday, July 10, 2014


Summary of the lesson:

Cognitive studies are considered to be especially useful in order to produce a better understanding of specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, … But learning can be challenging also in the absence of specific learning disorders. Can cognitive studies contribute to devise strategies for overcoming learning difficulties and facilitate learning at large

Learning comes naturally to the human mind and, at the same time, it doesn't. Learning skills such as walking, talking, seem indeed to come naturally to the human mind: the  brain is predisposed for them. Children spontaneously explore their environment, and produce knowledge about natural phenomena.  They interact with adults and develop an understanding of social rules, mechanisms for learning from others in a non trivial way. So learning is natural.
At the same time, many skills and contents of knowledge are difficult to acquire: we find them hard, effortful, we often fail. They often require special techniques for learning that go beyond individual experience, trial and error, or the exposition to social contexts and interactions. Education, as it takes place in formal and informal settings, is one of such special techniques. 

Scientific education and science learning is a good case study of how the joint action of natural learning mechanisms and of education can help overcoming obstacles  to the acquisition of new knowledge - obstacles that reside, at least in part, in our cognitive functioning. It is also a good case study of how a better understanding of the human mind can help devising strategies for science education that mesh with the functioning of the mind, and provide a compass for orienting the practical actions of educators. 

It goes without saying that this not enough: strategies that mesh with the functioning of the mind still have to pass the test of empirical research aimed at assessing their effective efficacy. 

For revising the lesson: 

  • Keil, F.C. (2010).  The feasibility of folk science. Cognitive Science, 34, 826-862.
  • Pasquinelli, E. (2014). Du labo à la classe. Sciences et apprentissage. Paris: Le Pommier
Further readings:
  • Readings: Learning and learning difficulties
  • Readings: Cognitive studies meet education

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