Books to get your learning sciences geek on…

Remembering back to high school, college, or a workplace learning series, did you notice that in some classes you didn’t learn a thing, but in others, like magic, the whole world unfolded before you?

As a member of the teaching team here at the Stanford University d.school, I am a big fan of crafting learning experiences filled with those magic moments. And while there is absolutely a little magic in making them happen, there is also a whole lot of science…

While Rich Cox Braden, Colin Coltrera and I have been designing our class Design Thinking Studio, for the upcoming 2019 Spring Quarter we have been drawing on the learning sciences to help us design some of those magic moments. Here are a few examples of how it has inspired our decisions:

Geek out principle: Learning happens in activity
What it means to us: Our class is project-based

Geek out principle: Exploration before explanation
What it means to us: We jump into discovery and then discuss what we find

Geek out principle: Learning happens in reflection
What it means to us: Reflection moments are crafted at the end of each class


Want to try it on your own?

Here are two easy reads that have been helping us use learning science to design learning experiences that we hope are filled with magic moments:

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them

Stanford Graduate School of Education Dean Daniel Schwartz and his colleagues used their in-depth knowledge of the learning sciences to write a book on proven approaches to learning and how educators can use them. This book can help you figure out the right strategies for your ideal learning outcomes, understand in what contexts they are most effective, and why they work.

Some of our favorite ABC’s are:
- A is for analogy: finding the general principle
- L is for listening and sharing: learning more together than alone
- M is for making: producing interest and practical knowledge
- Q is for question driven: creating a reason to inquire

How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching

Drawing on the wealth of research at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, How Learning Works aims to create a bridge between academic research and teaching practice. Want to prep yourself for awesome, transformational teaching? This book is a great general read to start thinking about some of the different reasons some learning experiences work super well and others… not so much.

Principle number 5 (“Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning”) has a special place in our heart.


Still wanting more…. Are you a die-hard learning science convert?

These three books dive deeper into the academic theory behind some of the core learning sciences principles mentioned above. Happy reading.
- The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences
- Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation
- Distributed Cognitions: Psychological and Educational Considerations