Toward a Design Science of Education

  • Allan Collins
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (volume 96)


We have had many technologies introduced in classrooms all over the world, but these innovations have provided remarkably little systematic knowledge or accumulated wisdom to guide the development of future innovations. Bolt, Beranek & Newman (BBN) Inc. is part of the new Center for Technology in Education located at Bank Street College in New York. A major goal of the Center is to synthesize research on technological innovation, to develop a methodology for carrying out design experiments, to study different ways of using technology in classrooms and schools, and to begin to construct a systematic science of how to design educational environments so that new technologies can be introduced successfully.

Historically, some of the best minds in the world have addressed themselves to education; for example, Plato, Rousseau, Dewey, Bruner and Illich. But they have addressed education essentially as theorists, even where they have tried to design schools or curricula to implement their ideas. What is different today is that some of the best minds in the world are addressing themselves to education as experimentalists: their goal is to compare different designs to see what affects what. Technology provides us with powerful tools to try out different designs, so that instead of theories of education, we may begin to develop a science of education. But it cannot be an analytic science like physics or psychology; rather it must be a design science more like aeronautics or artificial intelligence. For example, in aeronautics the goal is to elucidate how different designs contribute to lift, drag, manoeuvrability, etc.. Similarly, a design science of education must determine how different designs of learning environments contribute to learning, cooperation, motivation, etc.

There are, however, major problems with the kind of design experiments currently carried out that prevent our gaining much information from them. Typically the experiments are carried out by the people who designed some technological innovation, and so they have a vested interest in seeing that it works. They typically look only for significant effects (which can be very small effects) and test only one design, rather than trying to compare the size of effects for different designs or innovations. Furthermore, such experiments are so variable in their design and implementation that it is difficult to draw conclusions about the design process by comparing different experiments. Finally they are carried out without any underlying theory, and so the results are, for the most part, uninterpretable with respect to constructing a design theory of technology innovation in education. While we plan to look at past experiments in detail, we think only very limited conclusions can be drawn from them.

Our goal then will be to construct a more systematic methodology for conducting design experiments, and ultimately to develop a design theory to guide implementation of future innovations. The kind of methodology we anticipate will involve working with teachers as co- investigators to compare multiple innovations (different media and software) at one site with no vested interest in the outcome. The design theory we envision will identify all the different variables that affect the success or failure of any innovation, and will specify critical values and combinations of values with respect to the different variables. This paper will elaborate on these two goals of our work.


design experiments design theory evaluation methodology multiple innovations 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allan Collins
    • 1
  1. 1.Bolt, Beranek & Newman IncBostonUSA

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