About the LIFE Center

Social Learning Drivers

At its inception, LIFE Center research incorporated three academic traditions. LIFE's socio-cultural research tradition relied on ethnographic, interview, and survey methods to document the impact of culture and social activities on learning in and out of school. LIFE's experimental and neural studies used behavioral and neuroscience methods to document the mechanisms underlying social learning from developmental (infancy to adulthood) and neural perspectives, showing the deep reach of culture on the developing individual's mind and brain. LIFE's work on formal learning and technology designed new types of social learning technologies that can add-value for both school learning and its assessment.

LIFE's Center-mode work integrated these traditions into a set of six Social Learning Drivers (SLDs) that need to be taken into account in any transformative theory of the social foundations of human learning. At the same time, each SLD seeks to develop phenomena-specific hypotheses and theories that are less general than the Theory Gates, but nevertheless transformative in their importance and integration of LIFE's multiple disciplines. Collectively, these six drivers can be viewed as an integrative network of learning phenomena that need to be explored separately and as an integrated whole in order to better understand social learning. The six are:

Social Learning Driver 1: Imitation & Joint Attention

Imitation and joint attention are fundamental mechanisms of social learning. This first Strategic Learning Driver (SLD) describes how humans begin life socially engaged by others, and how the early processes of imitation, observational learning, and joint visual attention support learning before language, and also impact learning across the lifespan.

Social Learning Driver 2: Language

Language learning requires social interaction, and understanding its underlying brain mechanisms and "critical period" may help explain human learning more broadly. SLD-2 focuses on early learning and neuroplasticity, and shows how early language learning depends on a social context, supports literacy, and eventually helps mediate learning across disciplines, making it an important mechanism that helps bridge learning across informal and formal settings.

Social Learning Driver 3: Identity

Identity deeply influences how, why, and where people learn--through the cognitive understanding of one's self versus others, the coordination of multiple "cultural selves" across informal and formal environments, and the deepening of co-participation in social practices.

Social Learning Driver 4: Guiding & Collaborating

Adults and peers spark engagement, structure resources, and broker connections for learners. Understanding the conditions under which these forms of interaction develop--how social learning arrangements maximize and motivate learning--will help design environments that activate these powerful roles.

Social Learning Driver 5: Choosing & Valuing

Learning pathways within and across informal and formal environments centrally involve choosing and valuing of learning opportunities. Understanding processes of choice will contribute to designs for ubiquitous learning and better assessments of learning in school and beyond.

Social Learning Driver 6: Simply Believing an Interaction is Social

Virtual social interactions have become ubiquitous. They are being employed to explain and promote the social bases of learning, spanning from brain mechanisms to designed learning practices. SLD-6 indicates that social engagement becomes so powerful that the "mere belief" that an interaction is social establishes the positive effects associated with a social context on learning, and it translates these findings into new types of learning environments.