Learning research & design

Applied learning science

Learning science is methodical and rigorous research that examines how students learn and how the environment where learning takes place can impact education.

Researchers have made many discoveries about memory, attention, motivation, and other concepts that contribute to our understanding of how students learn. We leverage these discoveries to maximize positive student outcomes.

By applying learning science to product design and development, we aim to make our products more likely to deliver positive outcomes for learners.

Knowledge and skill definition

A great deal of research exists about the types of knowledge learners should acquire about a given subject or skill at a given stage in their learning development. This research covers math and science concepts, “soft skills” (collaboration, communication, etc.), and more.

We use that research to define and map the knowledge and skills that learners need to gain at given points in their interactions with our products. This mapping informs the way we design and develop our products.

This helps ensure that our products deliver the right set of content or skills at the right time in a learner’s development. It also helps us develop mechanisms for assessing whether learners have mastered the knowledge or skills they need to progress to the next stage in their learning.

Formative assessment and feedback

Once knowledge and skills are defined, we need to

  • help students and instructors understand how students are progressing
  • ensure appropriate feedback is delivered at the appropriate time

The digital world opens up new ways of meeting these needs.
Students’ interactions with digital education products create streams of data about their activities. This data can be used to build assessment models and to develop activities that work as both learning and assessment tools.

Once we have designed and developed ways to determine what students know and can do, we then apply research to make sure our products deliver appropriate feedback, in the right context, and at the right time.

Understanding learners’ and educators’ needs

We use surveys, focus groups, interviews, classroom and student observations, and a variety of other methods to understand learners’ and educators’ needs and desired outcomes.

Learning does not occur in isolation. In order to understand how a product can affect learner outcomes, we need to understand the context in which the product will be used.

Aligning needs and outcomes to evidence from research

Once we understand learners’ and educators’ needs and desired outcomes, we align them to the research base from learning science. There are decades of findings that help us understand concepts like attention, engagement, motivation, and memory, which in turn help us understand how students learn. Many of these insights are compiled in our learning design principles.

Iteratively creating and testing solutions

As we design our products, we aim to build a body of evidence that our designs will support learning. This requires an iterative process of design and testing.

In support of the larger product design efforts, the learning design team often starts with very basic prototypes — sometimes even just sketches on paper — and gets student feedback on their ideas. Student feedback might begin with self-report surveys and build to incorporate learning analytics, interviews, or other early validation testing. This in turn might inform task analyses that lead to more complex and longitudinal beta-style testing — that is, testing that involves students trying the product out.

When appropriate, students interact with prototypes and work with us to develop design ideas. In each iteration, we are looking not just at what students like, but also at whether what they like is expected to impact their learning. This progressive refinement of a learning experience — which is conducted as part of the larger product design process — results in an increased likelihood that the finished product will support identified needs and achieve desired learner outcomes.

Opening the principles to the education community

We want to open our work to the larger community and toremixing, riffing, and relinking.

Design organization Mobility Labs is one example of a company that has taken our principles and reconfigured them. They have created a self-assessment tool so designers can rate themselves on the extent to which they have implemented key teaching & learning design principles.

Visit learningdesignprinciples.com