work have increased dramatically, as has the need for organizations and workers to change in response to competitive workplace pressures. Thoughtful participation in the democratic process has also become increasingly complicated as the locus of attention has shifted from local to national and global concerns.

Above all, information and knowledge are growing at a far more rapid rate than ever before in the history of humankind. As Nobel laureate Herbert Simon wisely stated, the meaning of “knowing” has shifted from being able to remember and repeat information to being able to find and use it (Simon, 1996). More than ever, the sheer magnitude of human knowledge renders its coverage by education an impossibility; rather, the goal of education is better conceived as helping students develop the intellectual tools and learning strategies needed to acquire the knowledge that allows people to think productively about history, science and technology, social phenomena, mathematics, and the arts. Fundamental understanding about subjects, including how to frame and ask meaningful questions about various subject areas, contributes to individuals’ more basic understanding of principles of learning that can assist them in becoming self-sustaining, lifelong learners.


The scientific literatures on cognition, learning, development, culture, and brain are voluminous. Three organizing decisions, made fairly early in the work of the committee, provided the framework for our study and are reflected in the contents of this book.

  • First, we focus primarily on research on human learning (though the study of animal learning provides important collateral information), including new developments from neuroscience.

  • Second, we focus especially on learning research that has implications for the design of formal instructional environments, primarily preschools, kindergarten through high schools (K–12), and colleges.

  • Third, and related to the second point, we focus on research that helps explore the possibility of helping all individuals achieve their fullest potential.

New ideas about ways to facilitate learning—and about who is most capable of learning—can powerfully affect the quality of people’s lives. At different points in history, scholars have worried that formal educational environments have been better at selecting talent than developing it (see, e.g., Bloom, 1964). Many people who had difficulty in school might have prospered if the new ideas about effective instructional practices had been available. Furthermore, given new instructional practices, even those who

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