did well in traditional educational environments might have developed skills, knowledge, and attitudes that would have significantly enhanced their achievements.

Learning research suggests that there are new ways to introduce students to traditional subjects, such as mathematics, science, history and literature, and that these new approaches make it possible for the majority of individuals to develop a deep understanding of important subject matter. This committee is especially interested in theories and data that are relevant to the development of new ways to introduce students to such traditional subjects as mathematics, science, history, and literature. There is hope that new approaches can make it possible for a majority of individuals to develop a moderate to deep understanding of important subjects.


This report builds on research that began in the latter part of the nineteenth century—the time in history at which systematic attempts were made to study the human mind through scientific methods. Before then, such study was the province of philosophy and theology. Some of the most influential early work was done in Leipzig in the laboratory of Wilhelm Wundt, who with his colleagues tried to subject human consciousness to precise analysis—mainly by asking subjects to reflect on their thought processes through introspection.

By the turn of the century, a new school of behaviorism was emerging. In reaction to the subjectivity inherent in introspection, behaviorists held that the scientific study of psychology must restrict itself to the study of observable behaviors and the stimulus conditions that control them. An extremely influential article, published by John B.Watson in 1913, provides a glimpse of the behaviorist credo:

…all schools of psychology except that of behaviorism claim that “consciousness” is the subject-matter of psychology. Behaviorism, on the contrary, holds that the subject matter of human psychology is the behavior or activities of the human being. Behaviorism claims that “consciousness” is neither a definable nor a useable concept; that it is merely another word for the “soul” of more ancient times. The old psychology is thus dominated by a kind of subtle religious philosophy (p. 1).

Drawing on the empiricist tradition, behaviorists conceptualized learning as a process of forming connections between stimuli and responses. Motivation to learn was assumed to be driven primarily by drives, such as hunger, and the availability of external forces, such as rewards and punishments (e.g., Thorndike, 1913; Skinner, 1950).

In a classic behaviorist study by Edward L.Thorndike (1913), hungry cats had to learn to pull a string hanging in a “puzzle box” in order for a

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