Ask a Learning Scientist

Your Most Pressing Questions About Learning Science, Answered by an Expert

McGraw-Hill
Jun 12 · 4 min read

We’re fortunate to have a number of professionals on our team that are deeply knowledgeable in various spaces in education — including education technology, specific disciplines, professional learning, and importantly, learning science. The science behind how we learn drives all that we do, so it’s important that we stay up-do-date on emerging learning science research. But learning science isn’t just relevant for content providers: much of what learning science reveals can also be applied in the classroom.

Since learning science is so important, we want to make it accessible for all educators. That’s why we sat down with Dr. Annie Snyder, a Sr. Learning Scientist on our team, to answer some of your burning questions about learning science research and application.

Do you have more questions about learning science? Ask us! You can submit your question on Twitter by tagging us @McGrawHillK12 or by simply filling out this form. We’ll answer your question in a blog post or on social media!

Here’s our first installment of questions for Dr. Snyder:

Q: First, can you quickly explain to us what learning science is, for those who aren’t familiar?

Dr. Snyder: Learning science is actually something of an umbrella term for an emerging body of research that draws from multiple disciplines. In fact, some have used this term in the plural — learning sciences — because work in this area encompasses a wide variety of fields, including cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, data analytics, anthropology, computer science, and education.

Many learning scientists focus on the study of human learning for the goal of somehow improving a learning experience, such as designing an improved educational approach or a new method of collecting and interpreting student data.

Just as a knowledge of human anatomy and physiology helps enable medical professionals to practice better medicine, the knowledge of how we learn can enable us to create learning experiences that optimize student outcomes. This is why learning science is so important to all of us here at McGraw-Hill.

Q: Who uses learning science to inform their work?

Dr. Snyder: Absolutely anyone who is involved in teaching and learning can benefit from tapping into the insights offered by learning science. Because the field is both broad and deep, learning science research can be harnessed to help address an enormous range of questions and concerns related to education. Regardless of one’s role in education, this research can offer guidance for improving learning outcomes — and this work is already well underway!

For example, a second-grade math teacher may actually be using learning science-informed techniques every day when he or she offers students opportunities to practice new skills at strategically spaced intervals; indeed, a wealth of research has demonstrated that this sort of approach leads to better recall among learners. If students in that same class are also engaged in, say, metacognition (thinking about how we think) then they too are using learning science to inform their work of learning! Families who read aloud to children after school are putting learning science-based best practices to work. District administrators and school boards who think deeply about how and when to assess students do the same. So really, we are all engaging in the work of putting learning science research into practice, and that is very exciting.

Q: What are some of the most important things learning science has taught us so far?

Dr. Snyder: The great news is, there are so many significant findings from learning science research that it is hard to pick just a few! The study of human memory is one great example. As we have collectively developed a greater understanding of the processes involved in recalling information, that has led to the design of educational theories and approaches that optimize memory while working within its limits. For instance, when an educator chooses to introduce concepts in small chunks rather than as one big corpus of information, he or she is applying what we have learned from learning science to actual practice.

However, I would argue that perhaps the most important thing we have gained from learning science is our growing understanding that we can use research to help inform teaching. The reverse is true as well — the more that researchers work with actual students and teachers within authentic learning settings, the more their research can be targeted toward helping solve specific problems or questions that really matter in the every day work of education.


Have more questions for Dr. Snyder? Submit your question on Twitter by tagging us @McGrawHillK12 or by filling out this form. We’ll provide an answer on Medium or Twitter!

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

McGraw-Hill

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We apply the science of learning to create innovative educational solutions and content to improve outcomes from K-20 and beyond.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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