Learning about human learning: How to know more and why we will never know enough

Dean's Lecture Series
Miegunyah Lecture

Professor Anna Sfard

Professor of Mathematics Education
University of Haifa, Israel

2017 Miegunyah Distinguished Visiting Fellow
The University of Melbourne

Professor Anna Sfard is a distinguished scholar of international acclaim in the area of learning sciences, with a focus on the relationship between thinking and communication, which can be seen while studying mathematical thinking and its growth. She served as the first Lappan-Phillips-Fitzgerald Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Michigan and as Professor of Mathematics Education at the Institute of Education in London. Most recently she has been Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg, at the University of California, Berkeley, and at University College of London. Professor Sfard is a 2017 Miegunyah Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Professor Sfard now holds the position of Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Haifa, Israel. She is frequently sought after as a keynote speaker at major international conferences in mathematics education and the learning sciences, and has spent extended periods of time in various universities as a visiting scholar in countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and South Africa.

Professor Sfard has received numerous awards for her research excellence. In 2007, she received the prestigious Hans Freudenthal Medal, the highest award made by the international mathematics education community. Her intellectual leadership in mathematics education theory and her substantial accomplishments in educational research were recently recognised with a Fellowship of the American Educational Research Association in 2015 and she was elected as an international member of the National Academy of Education in the United States in 2016. Professor Sfard has published many influential papers, books, and chapters across a broad range of topics. Her contributions to educational theory go well beyond mathematics education and her work is extensively cited by learning theorists in the broader scholarly community.

About the lecture

What is human learning, what makes it distinct, and how can we account for its uniqueness? Professor Sfard will briefly review the widely differing answers that have been given to these questions by generations of thinkers, and reflect on lessons that can be learned from the history of research on learning. She will make observations on next steps that can or should be taken in that research. The point of departure for these reflections will be the acknowledgement of one special feature that sets human learning apart from any other: human learning occurs not only in individuals, but also on the societal level. The fact that the society learns as a whole, that is, that people’s activities grow in complexity from one generation to another, can be shown to be the primary source of all human uniqueness. These observations will lead her to the question of how to think about learning to acknowledge the constant interplay between changes on individual and societal levels and to understand its primary role in making us who we are.