Learning by Doing—How Children Discover the World

March 06, 2017

How do children learn so much about the world so quickly and efficiently? A new Max Planck Research Group has been set up at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development to investigate how children expand their knowledge of the world by actively searching for information.

The new Max Planck Research Group iSearch—Information Search, Ecological and Active Learning Research with Children—was launched in early 2017. Headed by psychologist Azzurra Ruggeri, it investigates children’s learning strategies and their effectiveness.

The research group’s focus is on the concept of “ecological learning”—that is, how flexibly and dynamically children adapt their strategies of exploring the world to different learning situations. In both theoretical work and laboratory and field studies, the research group investigates how young children search for information independently. Specifically, the group is working to develop tests for children aged between two and twelve years, which will be implemented in the group’s new laboratory as well as in collaboration with schools and other educational institutions, museums and recreational facilities.

Azzurra Ruggeri has already shown that children learn more effectively and remember more from active learning than from simple observation. She will now build on this work with various projects at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

“The aim of our research is to find out which kinds of active learning are beneficial in which learning environments. Ultimately, we are interested in developing an approach to classroom learning that leverages children’s active learning strategies and theory-building abilities,” says Azzurra Ruggeri. The group’s findings will be made available to educational scientists and practitioners in order to promote the development and evaluation of novel teaching methods.

“Azzurra Ruggeri’s research addresses fundamental questions about child development that complement and enhance the research profile of our institute,” says Ulman Lindenberger, current Managing Director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. “She is interested in what and how children learn when they are free to explore their environment. Her research provides rich insights into the environments and behaviors that are conducive to learning.”
By offering leadership positions in its Max Planck Research Groups, the Max Planck Society seeks to promote the development of early-career researchers. The research groups have their own budgets for staff and materials, and use the infrastructure and administration services of the institute at which they are based. This set-up enables them to pursue their own research projects autonomously.

Azzurra Ruggeri
Azzurra Ruggeri gained a PhD in Cognitive Science from the University of Siena and a PhD in Psychology from the Humboldt University Berlin. She was a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. As head of the new iSearch research group at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, she will continue her work on information search and decision making in children.

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