Areas of Research

The learning sciences

In terms of theory and methodology, research at CoCo contributes to the field of the learning sciences. This emerging international and interdisciplinary field brings together researchers from the fields of education, computer and information science, cognitive science and psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics, sociology, and anthropology to work on problems that are intellectually, economically, and socially central to life in the 21st century. These multiple disciplinary perspectives are necessary because a wide variety of factors influence learning: operating at scale levels from 'neurons to neighborhoods.' More information on the field of the learning sciences is available at the International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS).

Research contexts

Most of our research involves:

  • Empirical investigations of learning, as it occurs, in a wide variety of real-world settings
  • Understanding the role of new technologies in facilitating learning
  • Forging strong connections between theory, design, innovation, and empirical study

We carry out research on learning in schools and universities, workplaces, and the home. We also study mobile and informal learning; learning by individuals, groups, teams, organisations and communities; and learning in all areas of life, and across the whole lifespan.

Research Themes

Our research is currently focused around three main themes as below:

  1. Complex learning for a complex world
  2. Pedagogical innovation and the design of powerful learning environments
  3. eResearch

Complex learning for a complex world

"The WHAT of learning"

There is a great deal of speculation about the nature of 21st Century Skills – the range of capabilities that people will need to thrive in a complex, rapidly changing world. Our research in this thematic area is aimed at providing sharper insights into new goals for learning so that valuable learning outcomes can be defined much more clearly.

We are focusing on three important areas: meta-literacies, epistemic fluency, and complexity and systems thinking. We are interested in how people learn to employ the ‘meta-literacies’ from various disciplines in new and flexible combinations that are responsive to complex and unforeseen task demands. Learners with these habits of mind are able to represent their knowledge contributions in new kinds of texts, often digitally mediated and multimodally constructed, which are appropriate and powerful in terms of the range and blend of modalities used and the purposeful synthesis of visual and linguistic genres. We are also interested in understanding core epistemic challenges of skilful participation in knowledge work – understanding how successful professionals learn to work fluently with diverse forms of knowledge and ways of knowing.

We note that researchers are investigating a variety of physical and social systems from the perspective of complexity. Briefly, complexity scientists study systems in which interactions between elements or “agents” at a micro level (often describable in terms of simple rules) result in aggregate properties at meso and macro levels of the system. Examples of complex systems include functional genomics, climate change, the Internet and the global economy. Virtually all types of complex systems impact the everyday lives of individuals and the operation of organizations. Our work in this area seeks to promote understandings of new conceptual tools in the physical and social sciences (informed by complexity and systems thinking) in order to enhance working knowledge of professionals, policymakers, and an informed citizenry who must deal with challenging social and global problems in the 21st century.

Pedagogical innovation and the design of powerful learning environments

"The HOW of learning"

CoCo researchers are actively involved with several research projects in conjunction with computer scientists at Sydney and other universities in which new types of advanced learning technologies are being designed for use in real classroom contexts. Examples of these projects include:

  • Learning in virtual worlds with intelligent agent and data mining technologies
  • Understanding the complexity of climate change with computer modeling and visualization technologies
  • Visualising argument, text, and collaborative writing processes with machine learning technologies
  • Hand held devices for mobile learning

These research projects also explore how these technologies can enable innovative learner-centred pedagogical approaches such as collaborative learning, knowledge-building pedagogy, and productive failure. Aligned with these projects is strong line of research on teachers as innovators of pedagogical practices.

CoCo also has a very strong research interest in design for learning. This includes some pioneering work on the use of design tools, design patterns, and pattern languages to help integrate empirical research, theory, and experiential knowledge in action-oriented guidance for designers.


"The STUDY of learning"

eResearch refers to scholarly practices enabled or enhanced by the combination of three developments of advanced digital technologies: large integrated data repositories, high-performance computing, and high-speed computer networks to allow researchers to work on large scale global problems or to conduct explorations at new levels of detail. Examples of eResearch problems range from the modelling of climate change and the exploration of human genome structures in physical sciences, to the studies of large linguistic corpuses and integrated social policy analyses in humanities and social sciences. CoCo researchers are exploring the use of eResearch techniques for capturing and analyzing extensive process data that new learning technologies may collect, which we believe has the potential for significant methodological innovation in learning sciences and educational research. We are also exploring how researchers use eResearch in their inquiry practices