The Science of Learning
Online education is hot field right now. That means a lot of programmers and data scientists are interested in learning about education and instruction; a lot of teachers are rethinking the potential uses of technology and analytics. What may be less apparent or accessible to the newly interested, though, is the fantastic body of research available to them through the field of learning science(s).
The science of learning is concerned with questions like: How do people learn? How does learning vary across subjects, people, and environments? What reliably improves or harms learning? What is known about the effectiveness of online learning? Can we use psychological interventions to boost learning?
With answers to questions like these, online education professionals can have a huge head start on building great learning experiences.
Over the last year, I’ve tried to acquire a solid footing in the learning sciences. Given the surging interest in the field, I made this reading list in an attempt to streamline the process for others.
The list was made with the following goals in mind.
- Emphasize non-commercial, thoroughly footnoted survey reports. Avoid narrow studies or articles that might be incentivized to “sell” a certain result or view, but provide plenty of jumping off points for exploring studies in more detail.
- Use free and online resources where possible.
- Favor scientifically sound but mathematically non-technical writing.
- Keep length flexible and reasonable— An investment of a couple weekends or weeks of evening reading should yield a basic understanding.
Here’s the list..
How People Learn - (Free after signup with NAP). If you only have time to read one book, this is your winner. Summarizes decades of research in the science of learning and highlights its connection to educational practices. This is the foundation on which everything below is built.
e-Learning and the Science of Instruction - Summary of how learning science informs best practices when designing and delivering learning experiences online.
Knowing What Students Know / Executive Summary - (free from NAP) Learn about the science of effective assessment practices— and the shortcomings of many current-day assessments. Presents a framework for building designed to improve learning, not just score it.
Why Don’t Students Like School? / Sample Article - Written by a cognitive scientist, this is fairly overlapped with How People Learn. But it was a fun, short read, and did as much as any reading to drive the learning principles home for me. And at this point you deserve some fun, right? It’s well worth a couple hours and ten bucks.
How Students Learn Math, History, Science / Executive Summary - Follow-up report to How People Learn with chapters written by expert educators in each field. Even greater emphasis on application to the classroom.
Yes, the list is made entirely of books. No blogs, no zippy articles. I’m sorry. But the truth is, while I read a lot of articles, it was through these books that I felt like I was deeply learning and my perspective was changing. And given what I have learned in these books, I think I might know why! Built-in to the learning experience of this list are:
- Spacing - Most of the books were not read in one sitting. Revisiting them multiple times helped my retention.
- Repetition and practice - While the books have lots of overlap, the redundancy provided extra reinforcement and helped me master the vocabulary so I could begin to focus on the concepts.
- Lots of examples - Book-length writing provided room for the authors to use ample concrete examples. Processing of many examples is the most proven path to expert knowledge.
- Thinking about meaning - Something about the commitment and pace of reading a book encouraged me to take time and reflect more deeply about what I read. And as you will learn, knowledge is memory, and memory is the residue of thought.
The list is a work in progress, and I’d love to hear your own suggestions via comment here or on Twitter.