Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.2, 256-262
Published Online April 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Who Publishes What in the Journal of the Learning Sciences:
Evidence for Possible Biases
Chi Kim Cheung
Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
Received February 4th, 2012; revised March 10th, 2012; accepted March 19th, 2012
A content analysis of the Journal of the Learning Sciences (JLS) was conducted for a 5-year period. Arti-
cle topics, methodology, the names of the contributing authors, their academic ranks, affiliations, and
geographical locations were coded to reveal trends in publication patterns. A questionnaire was sent to all
authors in the relevant period to find out how they selected journals for submitting manuscripts. It was
found that the active involvement of the JLSs editor in the journal’s orientation correlated with the great
importance that the JLSs contributors gave to editorial considerations when selecting journals. A possible
geographical bias was identified, and possible solutions were discussed.
Keywords: Acceptance Criteria; Possible Bias; Publication Trends and Patterns
The aim of the present study is to answer the question: What
sorts of articles were accepted for publication in the Journal of
the Learning Sciences? Two strategies may be followed in try-
ing to answer a question of this kind. First, one can simply take
a look at what articles actually made it to publication—What
kind of articles were recently published in the JLS, in terms of
methodology and topic? Who were the contributing authors,
and to what institutions were they affiliated? Second, one may
try learning from what the authors themselves have to say: How
are they different from those of other journals with respect to
publishing practices? What do they think are the important
aspects of a journal? The former strategy can shed light on
patterns discerned by following the latter strategy: as we shall
see, for example, the extra importance that JLSs authors at-
tached to the editor of a journal is partly explained by the active
involvement of the JLSs editor in the journal’s orientation.
Both of these strategies were adopted in the present study.
First, a content analysis was conducted of the 5 volumes of the
JLS from 2000 to 2004 to reveal trends and patterns of publica-
tion. Second, a questionnaire was sent to all first authors of the
JLS in the period under study in order to obtain information
about their practice in selecting journals for publication. Details
of the implementing of these strategies are presented below.
Content Analysis
As part of a larger project, a retrospective review was con-
ducted of all issues of the Journal of the Learning Sciences (JLS)
and of another four leading journals in the field of education
from 2000 to 2004. The data from the five journals were then
combined and compared in a separate article to determine pub-
lication patterns in the broad field of education and among its
specialised areas. The rationale for choosing these journals was
that all of these are prestigious educational journals within the
discipline of education in general and their specific specialty
areas in particular, with high impact factors as calculated by the
ISI Social Science Citation Index. The JLS was selected for
in-depth study in the present paper. Only substantial articles
were included; editors’ introductions, notes to contributors,
news, book reviews, and any other publications which were not
peer-reviewed were excluded since these are generally not re-
flective of a journal’s publishing trends and patterns.
The articles were coded according to the following criteria:
the name of the first author, his or her nationality and institu-
tional affiliation, the world rankings of his or her institution
(according to the November 5, 2004 issue of the Times Higher
Education Supplement), the country in which the research was
conducted, article type/methodology, and the topic of research.
Partly following English et al. (2005: p. 15), the types of article
were divided into two main categories. The first category was
theoretical, which was further divided into purely theoretical
articles (including discussions about research methodology and
theoretical models and frameworks) and review articles (in-
cluding theoretical, methodological and historical reviews,
among others, but excluding book reviews). The second major
category was empirical or research-oriented, which was further
divided into quantitative studies (involving mainly data derived
from surveys or statistical analysis), qualitative studies (em-
ploying mainly qualitative or ethnographic methods, such as
observation and interview), and those that combined both.
Because no Guideline for Contributors to the JLS could be
identified on the Journal’s website, specifying what topics it
wished to include, the content of all the articles was used as the
basis for establishing the categories of topics. This resulted in
the following list of major topics: Science Learning, Mathe-
matics Learning, Online Learning, Collaborative Learning, Sca-
ffolding, Representations, Educational Standards, and Meth-
odology. Some blurring of categorical boundaries occurred
between Collaborative Learning and Online Learning (for ex-
ample, an article by Mark Guzdial (2001) concerns the use of
Website to promote collaborative learning). In general, how-
ever, there were no substantial problems in subsuming an arti-
cle under one of the foregoing categories.
Since none of the contributing authors was affiliated to an
institution outside the USA, research articles were deemed to
originate in countries where the research was carried out. With
respect to theoretical articles, on the other hand, the countries of
origin were considered to be those of the authors’ institution.
This special treatment of theoretical and review articles was
due to the fact that the content of such articles was often
marked by either a lack of, or a blurring of, national boundaries.
To determine whether and to what degree the patterns that
were discovered in the content analysis reflected an author’s
reasoning as to his or her choice of journals, a questionnaire
was developed that asked respondents to indicate the impor-
tance of a list of 24 factors in their selection of a publication
outlet for a typical manuscript submission, employing a five-
point scale with “1” representing “unimportant” and “5” repre-
senting “most important”. The questionnaire was emailed in
March 13, 2006 to each of the 60 authors who contributed to
the JLS in the period concerned, with a covering letter that
briefly explained the study and promised respondents anonym-
ity. After approximately one month, a follow-up e-mail re-
minder was sent to non-respondents of the first wave; and on
June 5, 2006, a third e-mail was sent to non-respondents of
each wave. The three contacts yielded a total of 26 responses; a
43.3% response rate.
During the five years under study, the JLS published a total
of 66 articles (Vol. 9-13). As shown in Table 1, except for the
year 2003, there was a gradual increase in the number of arti-
cles per volume, with volume 9 containing 12 articles and
volume 13 containing 19 articles. Except for the 2001 volume
(where issue 1 and issue 2 are combined), the JLS was success-
ful in consistently publishing four issues per volume.
Table 2 presents the frequency and percentage of the articles
that are classified in the major categories for the years 2000
through 2004. As seen in Table 2, the largest group of articles
(16.7%) deals with broad issues in science learning (specific
issues for the different disciplines of science are not addressed).
The categories of methodology and collaborative learning each
contain the second largest group of articles (13.6%). Together
these three categories account for 55.9% of the articles. Fol-
lowing these are the categories of mathematics learning (12.1%),
online learning (10.6%), scaffolding (9.1%), the role of repre-
sentations in learning (6.1%), and educational standards (6.1%).
No clear trends can be discerned in each category across the
five years under study. This may be partly due to the fact that
the JLS contains a relatively high proportion of thematic issues
(including issue 4 of volume 9, issue 1/2 of volume 10, issue 1,
2, and 3 of volume 13), which is largely a matter of editorial
arrangement and assemblage, and thus does not in general con-
stitute a proper measure of current research interests. So, for
example, articles addressing methodological issues were pre-
sent only in issues 1 and 2 of volume 10 and issue 1 of volume
13. Similarly, articles on scaffolding appeared only in issue 3 of
volume 13, while issue 2 of volume 13 was exclusively devoted
to educational standards. Although the category of science
learning, with at least one article published every year, reflects
a fairly stable research interest, the large proportion of thematic
issues together with the relatively short period covered by the
present study make it difficult to identify clear topical trends in
the JLS.
The editor’s influence on the topics addressed is evident if
we take a look at the editorial statements of the JLS. In a 2001
issue, editor Kolodner wrote:
I have made it a point, as editor of JLS, to make methodology
a central part of what we publish (Kolodner, 2001: p. 2).
Several paragraphs down, she anticipates themes to be cov-
ered in future volumes:
[I] found [that] a whole host of other important issues have
reached a new level of sophistication, and I hope we will be
Table 1.
Number of articles in JLS: Volume 9-13, 2000-2004.
Year Volume Articles
2000 9 12
2001 10 12
2002 11 13
2003 12 10
2004 13 19
Table 2.
Articles in each topic category, 2000-2004 (Vol. 9-13).
Categories 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 Total Percentage
Science Learning 2 2 1 5 1 11 16.7
Methodology 0 4 1 0 4 9 13.6
Collaborative Learning 5 1 1 2 0 9 13.6
Math Learning 1 0 5 1 1 8 12.1
Online Learning 2 2 1 2 0 7 10.6
Scaffolding 0 0 0 0 6 6 9.1
Representations 2 0 1 1 0 4 6.1
Educational Standards 0 0 0 0 4 4 6.1
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 257
having special issues in each of those areas in the not-too-
distant future A particular interesting debate [was] about
what scaffolding is Another important topic that came up at
ICLS is teacher development Another area that looks ready
for renewed discussion is learner-centered design I look
forward, as well, to a special issue devoted to this topic (Ko-
lodner, 2001: p. 3).
The abstract of an editorial in a 2006 issue contains a similar
The journal is focusing on publishing three types of articles
in addition to other regular sections. One type of articles re-
lated to the methodology of design studies and design experi-
ments were published in Volume 13 of the journal. Another type
of articles related to promotion of complex systems of learning
has been published in this issue. Another type related to new
ways of thinking about transfer will be published in Volume 15,
Number 4 of the journal (Kolodner, 2006: p. 1).
Each of the themes mentioned in the forgoing paragraphs is
covered by at least one subsequent special issue devoted to it.
As mentioned, scaffolding is the theme of issue 3 of volume 13
of JLS; methodology in general is addressed in a special issue
in 2001, while design research in particular is dealt with in a
special issue in 2004. As is clear from the last quote above,
other proposed themes have had their corresponding special
issues as well.
According to English et al. (2005: p. 15), approximately 60%
of the research in most education journals is empirically based,
which led them to declare that the high percentage (87.1%) of
theoretical articles they had found in religious education litera-
ture was “somewhat problematic” (p. 15). Related to this, the
low percentage of articles in the literature on higher education
that made explicit use of theory (25.6%) led Tight (2004: p. 409)
to conclude that “there is a need for more theoretical engage-
ment so that the field [of higher education] can develop further,
and gain more credibility and respect.”
It may seem that, by English’s standards, there were a dis-
proportionately large number of empirical articles (83.3%) in
the JLS, (see Table 3). However, it should be noted that, as
editor Kolodner (2000: p. 2) notes in an editorial, “the [JLS] is
distinguished from some of the other education and educational
technology journals by the theoretical basis of the work it pub-
lishes”—namely, theories derived from psychology, cognitive
sciences and computer sciences. Consequently, it is not sur-
prising that the JLS should have a heavy empirical basis.
Table 4 lists and ranks the leading contributors to the JLS for
the period under study. A total of 5 authors published more
than once as first author in the JLS from 2000 to 2004. Inter-
estingly, all five authors are associated with the JLS: one (Sasha
Barab) is an associate editor of the journal, and the other four
all belong to its editorial board. The majority of authors (n = 55,
83.3%) published only one article as first author in the relevant
period, four of whom were second or third authors of other
Academic Rank
As can be seen in Table 5, the vast majority of contributors
to JLS are academics (n = 59, 98.3%). The different academic
ranks are quite evenly distributed, with the percentage of full
professors (33.3%) being the highest among the five journals
under study (the overall percentage of full professor is 27.2%).
There was a clear increase in the proportion of higher-ranked
authors over the period in question. In the year 2000, the pro-
portion of full professors was zero, compared to that of assis-
tant professors/PhDs, which was 60%, but by 2004, the propor-
tion of full professors had risen to 36.8%, while that of assistant
professors/PhDs had dropped to 26.3%. Assuming that a high
correlation holds between tenure and academic rank (where full
and associate professors are mostly tenured, whereas assistant
professors and PhDs are mostly not tenured), the proportion of
tenured authors rose from 40% in 2000 to 73.7% in 2004.
These data point to a clear rise in the quality of the journal’s
authors, and also to the increasing difficulty for younger au-
thors to publish in the JLS.
It may be asked whether there had been any academic pro-
motions for authors during the five years under study, given
that their employment positions were obtained through their
personal websites around February, 2006, and that for most
authors a considerable period in his or her career lifecycle had
elapsed. Although this can be taken as a general caveat against
assuming any inference from an authors’ current academic rank
to the general quality of an author’s article for a journal over an
extended period, it is curiously quite unimportant in the present
case. The interesting fact is that none of the authors of the
original 2000 volume of the JLS had been promoted to full
professor even by the time of our study. It appears, then, that
Table 3.
Articles in each methodology category, 2000-2004 (Vol. 9-13).
Categories 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 Total Percentage
Empirical 12 11 12 10 10 55 83.3
Quantitative 2 5 1 6 0 14 21.2
Qualitative 8 5 10 3 10 36 54.5
Both 2 1 1 1 0 5 7.6
Theoretical 0 1 1 0 9 11 16.7
Review 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0
Pure 0 1 1 0 9 11 16.7
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Table 4.
Leading contributors to the JLS.
Contributor First-author articles Non-first-author articles
Barab, Sasha 3 0
Cobb, Paul 2 0
Davis, Betsy 2 0
Brigid, Barron 2 0
Guzdial, Mark 2 0
4 authors 1 1
51 authors 1 0
there is a genuine increase in the quality of the contributors to
the JLS.
Institutional Contributions
Table 6 lists the institutions in order of their number of con-
tributions to the JLS for each of the five years under study. A
total of 12 institutions contributed at least twice to the JLS, 7 of
whom contributed at least 3 times. In 2000, only four institu-
tions met the 2-article criterion, accounting for 50 percent of
total articles published in that year, while in 2004, 7 institutions
met the criterion, representing 63.2 percent of all articles pub-
lished in that year. Taken together, these 12 institutions repre-
sent 57.6 (n = 38) percent of the total number of articles pub-
lished for the period from 2000 to 2004. Some of these institu-
tions contributed to the JLS mostly in more recent years (e.g.,
the University of Michigan and Northwestern University),
whereas others had virtually no publication except in the earlier
period (e.g., Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts
As seen in Table 7, a clear majority (74.2%, n = 49) of arti-
cles were contributed by top-200 institutions as ranked by
Times Higher Education Supplement. Among these, 22 articles
(n = 33.3%) were authored by those working for institutions in
the top-50. Although no clear pattern over the period from 2000
to 2004 emerges from Table 7, the proportion of authors affili-
ated to institutions not in the top-200 was the lowest (15.8%) in
Geographical Locations
Not surprisingly, the vast majority (86.4%, n = 57) of articles
were written by US authors and/or about research conducted in
the US Contributions from Canada and UK included, the so-
called “Anglosphere” accounts for 92.4% (n = 61) of all the
Table 5.
Academic Ranks of contributors to the JLS.
Titles 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 Total Percentage
Full Professors 0 3 6 4 7 20 33.3
Associate Professors 4 4 3 1 7 19 31.7
Assistant Professors/PhDs 6 3 2 4 5 20 33.3
Non-faculty member 0 0 1 0 0 1 1.7
Table 6.
Leading institutional contributors to the JLS.
Institution 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 Total Percentage
University of Michigan 1 0 0 1 4 6 9.1
Georgia Institute of Technology 2 1 0 1 1 5 7.6
Indiana University 0 2 1 0 1 4 6.1
Northwestern University 0 0 1 0 3 4 6.1
Stanford University 1 0 0 1 1 3 4.5
University of California, Los Angeles 0 1 0 2 0 3 4.5
Vanderbilt University 0 1 2 0 0 3 4.5
Hebrew University 0 0 0 2 0 2 3.0
MIT 2 0 0 0 0 2 3.0
Pennsylvania State University 0 1 0 0 1 2 3.0
Tufts University 0 1 1 0 0 2 3.0
University of California, Berkeley 0 0 1 0 1 2 3.0
Remaining 28 Institutions 6 5 7 3 7 28 42.4
Total 12 12 13 10 19 66 100.0
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 259
articles. Although the more recent years saw some engagement
by Israeli authors, the international representation in the JLS in
2004 (5.3%, n = 1) was much closer to the original position in
2000 (0.0%, n = 0) than to the intervening years of 2001
(16.7%, n = 2), 2002 (30.8%, n = 3), and 2003 (20%, n = 2).
Is the low international representation much of a problem? It
is worth noting that the JLS is published by the International
Society of the Learning Sciences which “provides unprece-
dented opportunities for collegial interaction across national
boundaries” ( Arguably, a journal’s aspira-
tions to international status cannot be fulfilled if over 85 per-
cent of the articles in that journal are written by US authors and
over 90% of the articles are written by authors from Eng-
lish-speaking countries. In the case of JLS during 2000 to 2004,
authors from Asia, Africa, and Latin America were not repre-
sented at all; nor were authors from Northern Europe and Aus-
tralia (both of which enjoy a high level of research capacity and
a large number able researchers). Except for France, none of the
countries on the European continent made contributions to the
JLS in the relevant period. These facts suggest, it seems, that
the JLS is not so international after all and is affected by a geo-
graphical/cultural bias (Table 8).
Criteria for Selecting Journals
Are the patterns that emerged in the foregoing content analy-
sis of the JLS reflected in an author’s actual practice when se-
lecting journals for publication? To answer this question, it is
crucial to look at what the authors themselves have to say. To
be sure, there are two limitations to this strategy in the present
case: to begin with, the ratings of journal selection considera-
tions presented in Table 9 were based on a sample of 26 re-
spondents out of a population of 60 (a response rate of 43.33%),
which may involve some form of respondent bias. Moreover,
respondents were asked what their routine practices were when
selecting journals, and not why they had actually selected the
JLS when trying to get one of their articles published. However,
because, as we shall see, there actually are some significant
differences between the journal selection practices of authors of
the JLS and those of the other four journals surveyed, an inter-
pretation which allows us to make more meaningful sense out
of the original data would be quite in order.
As can be seen in Table 9, contributors to the JLS attached a
significantly greater importance (p = 0.039) to how their arti-
cles coincided with the journal’s foci when considering which
journal to submit them to than did authors of the other four
journals surveyed (In fact, as seen in Table 9, this item is rated
as the most important consideration in JLS respondents’ choice
of journals). This agrees quite well with the fact, noted above in
the section “Topics & Methodologies”, that the editor of JLS is
quite insistent on the journal’s having clear foci and no less
explicit about what those foci are—i.e., methodology (espe-
cially design research), scaffolding, complex systems, etc. The
logic is quite obvious: if an editor has been vocal about his or
her journal’s foci, then one had better conform if one submits to
the journal.
The importance of the JLSs editor also seems to correlate
with other statistically significant differences. JLS authors rated
the quality of editor (m = 3.58, p = 0.001) and personal knowl-
edge of the editor (m = 3.04, p = 0.003) as significantly more
important than did authors of the other journals. JLS authors
also rated knowledge of an editor’s intellectual interests (m =
2.88, p = 0.169) as more important than did the authors of other
journals’. Although it is not easy to see how each of these dif-
ferences can individually be explained in terms of an editor’s
actively orienting the journal, a general explanation is that
when one is routinely presented with an active editor, other
considerations about the editor—such as the editor’s profes-
sional competence, intellectual interests, and personal quali-
ties—become more salient. It remains unclear whether, for
example, the fact that the authors of/contributors to the JLS
placing more emphasis on personal knowledge of the editor
was partly due to a lack of, or an abundance of, knowledge of
the editor of the JLS.
Contributors to the JLS also paid significantly less attention
than did authors of the other journals to the online accessibility
Table 7.
Contributing institutions in order of overall rankings.
Institution Ranking 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 Total Percentage
1 - 50 6 1 2 4 9 22 33.3
50 - 200 4 5 7 4 7 27 40.9
200- or not ranked 2 6 4 2 3 17 25.8
Total 12 12 13 10 19 66 100.0
Table 8.
The country of origin of articles.
Country 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 Total Percentage
US 12 10 9 8 18 57 86.4
Israel 0 0 1 2 1 4 6.1
Canada 0 2 0 0 0 2 3.0
UK 0 0 2 0 0 2 3.0
France 0 0 1 0 0 1 1.5
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Table 9.
Mean importance of considerations as rated by contributors to the JLS
and contributors to the other 4 journals.
Considerations JLS
authors p-Value
Affinity of article with journal’s foci 4.69 4.33 0.039*
Intended audience 4.62 4.42 0.381*
Journal’s perceived prestige 4.31 4.11 0.591*
Prominent contributors to the journal 3.85 3.22 0.013*
Calling for papers 3.62 3.16 0.112*
Good editors 3.58 2.73 0.001*
Journal’s Impact factor 3.54 3.93 0.046*
Personally known journal authors 3.27 2.69 0.025*
Peer review policy 3.23 3.19 0.852*
Depth of Coverage 3.19 3.14 0.792*
Personal knowledge of editors 3.04 2.23 0.003*
Having previously published in the journal 3.04 2.75 0.278*
Colleague recommendation 3.00 2.89 0.531*
Manuscript turnaround time 2.92 2.94 0.913*
Reviewer suggestions & criticisms 2.92 2.98 0.928*
Knowledge of editor’s intellectual interests 2.88 2.50 0.169*
Journal’s popularity in author’s institution 2.73 2.55 0.510*
Breath of coverage 2.65 2.74 0.732*
Acceptance rates 2.46 2.73 0.354*
Circulation size 2.42 2.97 0.026*
Journal history 2.27 2.50 0.363*
Having been rejected by the journal 1.96 2.32 0.195*
Online availability 1.69 2.30 0.032*
Moving wall 1.38 1.89 0.028*
(m = 1.69, p = 0.032) and the moving wall (m = 1.38, p = 0.028)
of the journal to which he or she wished to submit. The reason
for this is not clear. Perhaps it is because the publishers of the
other journals—especially those centrally educational jour-
nals—generally impose quite long periods of embargo on the
journals; for example, issues of Review of Research in Educa-
tion after 2000 are completely inaccessible online, as are issues
of Review of Educational Research after 2001. By contrast, the
JLS is quite remarkable with regard to its online availability:
not only does the journal impose only one year’s embargo on
the online accessibility of its contents, but it is accessible from
multiple sources—including the Academic Search Premier
(1991-present), Professional Development Collection (1991-
present), Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection (1991-
present), and JSTOR Arts & Sciences IV Collection (1991-
2000). If, as is highly probable, psychology and cognitive sci-
ence journals generally are more accessible through the internet
than educational journals, then it makes sense that authors of
JLS would pay less attention to a journal’s online accessibility.
The content analysis of the issues of the Journal of the
Learning Sciences during the five years under study reveals that
the major topics addressed in articles are Science Learning,
Research Methodology, Collaborative Learning, Mathematics
Learning, Online Learning, Scaffolding, among others. The
vast majority of articles are empirical, employing quantitative
and/or qualitative methods of inquiry, and the majority of the
empirical articles make use of qualitative methods of ethnog-
raphy, interview, and so forth. The foregoing emphases re-
vealed in content analysis are also reflected in the JLS editor’s
annual editorial statements.
Authors are almost evenly distributed between full professors,
associate professors, and assistant professors, while authors
who are affiliated to government and private research institu-
tions are rare. Over the 5-year period, there was a rise in the
proportion of higher-ranked researchers among the authors of
the JLS.
The institution that contributed most to the JLS is the Uni-
versity of Michigan, followed by Georgia Institute of Technol-
ogy, Indiana University, and Northwestern University. The
majority of contributing institutions are within the top 200 in-
stitutions, according to the November 5, 2004 issue of the
Times Higher Education Supplement.
One problem also emerged from the data: the vast majority
of authors were affiliated to US institutions, and even more
affiliated to institutions inside the so-called Anglosphere. Al-
though Israeli authors made a number of contributions to the
JLS, the overwhelming majority of US authors in the journal do
not seem to be in accord with its commitment to “providing
collegial interaction across national boarders”.
Research on medical journals has demonstrated that the ma-
jority of the editorial board members of international medical
journals come from nations that enjoy a high human develop-
ment index (Keiser et al., 2004; Tutarel, 2004), and that poor
countries are underrepresented on medical journals’ editorial
boards (Horton, 2003). An examination of the makeup of the
editorial boards of the JLS revealed that of the 46 editorial
board members, only 4 (8.7%) are based in institutions outside
the Anglosphere. It seems that what is needed is, as both Patel
et al. (2001: p. 409) and Leff (2001: p. 410) argue in connection
with psychiatry journals, an internationally collaborative edito-
rial board that is capable of conducting non-biased, culturally
and linguistically sensitive assessment of articles from outside
the Anglosphere. One support for this suggestion is the co-
presence of an active engagement by Israeli authors in the JLS
and a JLS editorial member from Israel (Iris Tabak, information
retrieved from
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