What's new

Home page



AERA Contributions 1999
- A work in progress -

Below are the abstracts of LWF's contribution to the Symposium on Overcoming the Underdevelopment of Learning at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, held in Montreal, Canada, from 19 to 23 April 1999. All full text contributions are available on-line through the links on this page.

The first article by Jan Visser, Director of Learning Without Frontiers, serves as an introduction to the collection of papers.

Overview of articles:

  • Overcoming the underdevelopment of learning: A transdisciplinary view (Jan Visser). (full text PDF)
  • The transdisciplinary evolution of learning (Basarab Nicolescu).(full text PDF)
  • Learning to learn in a virtual world (Ron Burnett).(full text PDF)
  • Learning and economic and human development in the third world, particularly Africa (Cheick Modibo Diarra). (full text PDF)
  • Reconceptualizing processes and agents of learning in an environmental perspective (Marcy P. Driscoll). (full text PDF)
  • On the threshold of the 21st century: Comments on science education (Leon M. Lederman). (full text PDF)
  • Using new technologies to increase learning in mathematics and science (Robert Tinker). (full text PDF)
  • An article by Boris Berenfeld is forthcoming. (full text PDF)

  • top

    Overcoming the underdevelopment of learning: A transdisciplinary view

    Jan Visser - Director, UNESCO – Learning Without Frontiers coordination unit
    (full text PDF)


    This paper serves as an introduction to the collection of papers prepared for the Symposium on Overcoming the Underdevelopment of Learning at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, held in Montreal, Canada, from 19 to 23 April 1999. It will provide an integrative conceptual framework for the other papers, inspired by the following theses:

    Learning is an underdeveloped concept. It is increasingly necessary for humans to be able to adapt themselves to continuous and ever faster change and to conceive of the world as a complex environment. School-based learning, in many parts of the world, however, is often still largely based on the assumption that human intervention in the world is linear and that preparation for life is more important than preparation for learning during the lifespan. Fundamental change in the school system, attitudinal change in the actors within the school, and the conceptualization of more comprehensive learning environments of which the school is a part, are some of the urgent requirements.

    Learning is a transdisciplinary concept. It relates to such diverse issues and concerns as change and growth; community processes and development; complex adaptation; diversity and emergence; design of systems for knowledge construction; interaction with and building on existing knowledge bases; learning at different levels of organizational complexity; neuroscience; lifespan cognitive development; the connections and distinctions between data, information, knowledge and wisdom; technologies for learning; language, cognition, and meta-cognition. While much can be learned from looking at learning from the point of view of all these different perspectives as well as from their multiple interactions, there is also a need to transcend these different and separate views and to acquire a transdisciplinary and integrative vision of learning.

    Learning has to do with the capacity to interact creatively and constructively with problems. In much of the current educational practice such problems are at best concealed and at worst ignored. Learning therefore needs to be refocused on problems, including their historical and epistemological context.


    The transdisciplinary evolution of learning

    Basarab Nicolescu - Président, Centre International de Recherches et d’Etudes Transdisciplinaires (CIRET)
    (full text PDF)


    A number of symptoms conceal the general cause of the disorientation of education in today's world: the loss of meaning and the universal hunger for meaning. A viable education can only be an integral education of the human being. Transdisciplinary education has its origins in the inexhaustible richness of the scientific spirit, which is based on questioning, as well as on the rejection of all a priori answers and certitude contradictory to the facts. At the same time, it revalues the role of deeply rooted intuition, of imagination, of sensitivity, and of the body in the transmission of knowledge. Only in this way can society of the twenty-first century reconcile effectiveness and affectivity. Universal sharing of knowledge - a necessity of our world - cannot take place without the emergence of a new tolerance founded on the transdisciplinary attitude, one which implies putting into practice transcultural, transreligious, transpolitical and transnational visions.

    Concrete proposals will be also discussed: time for transdisciplinarity (devoting approximately 10% of the teaching time to transdisciplinarity), creation of ateliers for transdisciplinary reasearch in each educational institution (composed of researchers from all disciplines), transdisciplinary forums (directed towards epistemology, philosohy of nature and philosophy of history), and pilot transdisciplinary experiences in cyberspace.


    Learning to learn in a virtual world

    Ron Burnett - President, Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design
    (full text PDF)


    The context for learning and education has altered dramatically over the last few years. We are witnessing shifts that will have a profound effect not only on the social and political orientation of nation states, but also on the ways in which we see ourselves and act upon and within the communities of which we are a part. These shifts will affect how we create meanings, messages and information for the proliferating electronic networks that now surround us. We will also have to re-examine how ideas circulate and how learning and knowledge can be acquired within a digital context.

    In fact, learning, as we have traditionally defined it, needs no longer be located within particular or specialized institutions. Learning now becomes an activity of problem solving applied to every aspect of daily life.

    The conjuncture of computers, networks, lifelong learning and a vast array of new tools for human interaction variously described through the tropes of the virtual and the cyberspatial, means that teachers will have to reinvent themselves. Virtual spaces generate hybrid environments for the interaction of people and computers. As we negotiate new relationships with these emerging technologies, we are defining new spaces for learning.

    This paper will explore the landscape of the virtual and examine whether the many different claims being made for the utility of cyberspace as a learning environment are realizable or, in fact, needed.


    Learning and economic and human development in the third world, particularly Africa

    Cheick Modibo Diarra - Program Manager, Mars Exploration Directorate, NASA – Jet Propulsion Laboratory
    (full text PDF)

    Abstract - The African Challenge

    In the international arena, the debate concerning Africa has gone from Afro-pessimism to the effects of globalization on the local economies of the continent. For Africa not to be marginalized in the 21st century, it has to devote the bulk, if not all, of its resources to the development of its human potential. It can be argued that a new emphasis on science and technology related thinking skills and attitudes is key to the success of that choice. Such a change of focus is urgent. It requires a well-planned approach that makes use of the latest communication and information technologies as well as the synergy between all 52 African countries, for seldom have so many had to face up to a common challenge.

    As a practicing engineer and the Manager of the Mars Exploration Directorate’s Education and Public Outreach Office, my observations and experience lead me to believe that building bridges between the North American experience and Africa is an ideal starting point for this effort. The numerous educational and outreach programs in existence in North America have resulted in a sizable amount of inquiry-based materials with hands-on activities as well as ways to disseminate them to educational partners in the relevant communities. The suggested bridge between continents will afford the North American educational communities unique experiences not attainable in other ways while providing African schools and their communities with most needed curriculum materials and new approaches towards learning. This paper proposes approaches that can be beneficial to North America while at the same time taking African schools to the classroom of the future: A clear win-win situation.


    Reconceptualizing processes and agents of learning in an environmental perspective

    Marcy P. Driscoll - The Florida State University
    (full text PDF)


    This paper focuses on learning as a systemic phenomenon in an environmental context. In this view, it is argued that learning can and must be studied as it occurs in learners, teachers, and the learning environments teachers create as they make adjustments to better accommodate to students’ needs. In today’s emphasis on student-centered instruction, teachers pay little attention to their own learning. They generally do not think of themselves as learners nor do they systematically undertake a learning agenda that will better prepare them to solve problems facing them in the classroom. In the same vein, instructional designers tend to treat learning as a static process. They design instruction for desired learning outcomes without much regard for how learners’ needs change in making progress towards achieving those outcomes. In this presentation, two technology-based learning environments will be discussed as cases for how learning might be viewed more systemically. In one, the distinction between preservice teacher preparation and inservice teacher development is collapsed as members of both groups are brought together in an intentional learning community. In the other, design features built into the environment enable the teacher and students to learn about their own learning and make adjustments accordingly.


    On the threshold of the 21st century: Comments on science education

    Leon M. Lederman - Resident Scholar, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
    (full text PDF)


    Hundreds of students, panels, committees and analyses of international tests have confirmed the deep systematic problems facing our educational system. In a time of increasing need for a science literate population, we are failing our students, the future citizens and workers. Exploding technological advances also increase the gap between rich and poor, between those with access to the evolving knowledge base and those who are without such access. Although international comparisons like the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) appear to have winners and losers, the implications of 21st century life make the educational systems of all nations vulnerable. In the US, equity and common sense would dictate that major resources be deployed to raise the level of all students to at least those of the new science standards. These have achieved national consensus, a new phenomenon in the US obsession with local control of education.

    This paper will examine some innovative, even radical reforms in high school science education with obvious implications for K-8 and the first two years of college. The driving force is to prepare students for life in the 21st century, one that will be crowded with opportunities but also dense with threats. On both aspects, our projections of new sciences and new technologies include essentially unforeseeable consequences. This points to a search for educational processes that will strive for capability of adapting and even thriving in an arena of new problems and new opportunities. We like to call this "science thinking."

    I will describe some innovative curricula like problem-based learning, integrated science and reversing the traditional sequence of core science courses, i.e. physics-chemistry-biology instead of biology-chemistry-physics. The criteria for a 21st century science curriculum are: coherence, integration, movement from concrete to abstract, inquiry, logical sequencing so that what is learned is used in further learning.

    Here we believe that a three-year science sequence should dwell in some depth on the processes of science, its powers, its limitations. Science in the service of mankind serves as a bridge to the social sciences and the humanities. The frontiers of modern neurosciences do encourage a new faith in the old wisdom that there is a fundamental unity to all knowledge.


    Using new technologies to increase learning in mathematics and science

    Robert Tinker - President, the Concord Consortium
    (full text PDF)


    To a surprising extent, what we teach is dictated by what we have been teaching, even when far better strategies and resources are available than are currently used. There are many reasons for this innate conservatism. Texts, tests, standards, unions, and poor teacher preparation all resist change while there are few incentives for change. In math and science, there is another factor that is seldom mentioned, an over-reliance on formalism. There is an incorrect assumption underlying much of what is taught that understanding can only be based on formal knowledge.

    Information technologies challenge us to re-examine what is possible to teach, because they can bring new resources and approaches into teaching that are not conceivable without technology. For instance, it is possible for nine-year olds to interpret graphs they generate through interactions with sensors. Eleven-year old learners can gain an intuitive understanding of basic calculus concepts by using a position sensor with a computer that generates a real-time graph of the learner’s motion and velocity. Genetics can be learned through interactive simulations. The nature of chemical bonds can be understood through real-time orbitals visualized in 3D. Middle school learners can make quantitative projections of the world population under various assumptions.

    This paper defines a series of technology-enhanced curriculum strands that would begin to realize the potential of technology. These strands could be easily integrated into schools without major disruption.

    Top of document LWF Documents LWF Activities LWF Home Page

    This site is
    Last updated 17 April 1999