Learning is a Challenge, Even for Scientists

UCF professor gets national grant to study teamwork among scientists and engineers from different disciplines to understand how they learn from each other “on the job.”



UCF is home to nine clusters that bring together interdisciplinary faculty to tackle big challenges that involve many fields from medicine to the environment.

UCF Professor Stephen Fiore has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study how faculty from many disciplines work together in an effort to better prepare future researchers for the teamwork needed to solve some of the world’s most complicated challenges.

Convergence science — or a merging of ideas, approaches and technologies from widely diverse fields of knowledge — is needed to advance human understanding in complex areas, from improving human health, to understanding the food/energy/water nexus, to exploring our world and the universe at all scales. But interdisciplinary study isn’t the usual track for scientists and working in teams is often difficult. To add to the difficulty, when working on interdisciplinary teams, scientists have to learn about new fields and new technologies they have not studied.

The NSF launched the NSF2026 campaign last year to bring together the scientific community and general public to help set the U.S. agenda for fundamental research in science and engineering. As part of the campaign, the federal agency held a competition to find out what were the most pressing or important areas of research. One of the themes that emerged was the need to better prepare scientists for the kind of interdisciplinary work that will be necessary to find solutions to these complex challenges. NSF’s theme of “Reinventing Scientific Talent” asked how do scientists learn when continually faced with new findings and new methods and tools.

That’s where Fiore, a professor of philosophy, comes in. He has a joint appointment with UCF’s School of Modeling, Simulation and Training, where he leads the Cognitive Sciences Laboratory. Fiore studies how individuals and teams interact with each other and with technology to acquire new knowledge and solve complex problems.

Fiore will work with UCF’s Faculty Cluster Initiative for the project. He will study how members of these interdisciplinary clusters work together, share knowledge and skills, and how their interactions help them learn from each other as a kind of on-the-job training.

“The goal of the project is to understand how team members implicitly and explicitly learn as they collaborate on convergence science,” Fiore says. “When we work with people from different fields, to be successful we need to be continually learning from each other. For example, social scientists need to explain theories of human behavior to computer scientists if we want to create better artificial intelligence. Or marine biologists need to explain fishery population dynamics to political scientists if they are to understand how sea level rise interacts with overfishing to alter economics in coastal regions.



Stephen Fiore

This type of “reciprocal learning” in interdisciplinary teams is not well understood, Fiore says. The NSF grant will study the specific types of team interactions that support informal learning and help scientists learn about and better understand the science coming from disciplines other than their own.

“UCF’s clusters are bringing together some of the brightest minds from different scholarly fields,” Fiore says. “We need to understand how they are able to collaboratively learn about each other’s research, and better integrate their knowledge to solve complex societal problems.”

Fiore joined UCF in 1998. He holds multiple degrees including a doctorate in cognitive psychology and has co-authored hundreds of peer-reviewed scholarly publications. He serves on DARPA’s Information Sciences and Technology Study Group to help shape future research for the Department of Defense and has contributed to working groups for the National Academy of Sciences on the Science of Team Science and on understanding and measuring 21st century skills.


Written By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
Sep. 17, 2020