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The general mission of ICO is to advance scientific theories for understanding processes and systems of learning and instruction. These theories concern:

  1. learning processes and characteristics of the learning environment, including the teacher, that influence the efficiency and effectiveness of the learning process;
  2. the organization of the curriculum and the school in relation to the learning and instruction process;
  3. the role of educational policies in influencing the functioning of schools;
  4. theories of examination and assessment.

Theory advancement within ICO concerns educational science itself (e.g., instructional design theories and curriculum studies) or builds upon theories from other disciplines, more specifically psychology (e.g., cognitive and social psychology), sociology, and economics and is largely based on empirical studies.

Theory advancement within ICO has the ultimate objective of optimizing the learning and instruction process. The central person in the learning process is the learner who acquires knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Most of the attention in the ICO research program, therefore, is centred on learners and their learning processes. Design of optimal learning situations is therefore centrally based upon knowledge from theories of human memory architecture, more specific learning theories, and social-constructivistic theories complemented by insights from domain specific theories. Creating optimal conditions for learning and ensuring educational effectiveness is further based upon knowledge of the design of learning environments, curriculum design, teacher behaviour, assessment, and the functioning of school organizations.

Research within ICO primarily has an empirical character. The goal of optimizing learning and instruction within ICO has consequences for the research methods used. Along with traditional controlled (laboratory) experimental studies, ICO will make use of and works on the further improvement of more qualitative research methods such as design research.