Happy Birthday: The MIT Integrated Learning Initiative turns seven

MITili Staff
birthday balloons

Over the past seven years, MITili has funded fourteen educational effectiveness research projects through the generous support of MIT and individual donors. Seven years ago today MIT launched the Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili), a cross-disciplinary, Institute-wide initiative to foster rigorous quantitative and qualitative research on how people learn. In all, MITili has been able to utilize nearly $1.8M to help advance the science of learning across a broad range of subjects as well as throughout the lifespan of the learner from K12 to higher education and workplace learning. Below is a snapshot of each of the projects funded. You can learn more about these projects by visiting the MITili research page. There are also short videos available on the Open Learning YouTube channel for those projects that are complete. 

  • Improving Learning effectiveness with adaptive physical tools – Stefanie Mueller and Robert C Miller: Prof. Mueller and her team developed a set of adaptable tools across different application areas, first focusing on conceptual development, then carried out by the students in her class. Next, the team measured the learning gain and studied the learning effectiveness of these new adaptive tools versus current adaptive tools through a randomized control trial. Finally, the team developed a framework for designing adaptive tools with optimal learning effectiveness which was fully automated, ensuring every learner can learn independently without the need for additional teachers.
  • The impact of infusing computation and visualization into introductory physics subjects – Kyle Keane, Michelle Tomasik, and Peter Barendse: Keane and his team explored the potential benefits of utilizing computer programming and visualization to solve and understand undergraduate physics problems. The study utilized a 2x2 factorial design to study how the independent variables of learning and computer programming and visualization affect the dependent variables of physics comprehension, comprehension of computer programming, and spatial reasoning.
  • Enhancing learning via ‘novelty insertion’: Employing the neuroscience of learning to create more effective pedagogical approaches – Dr. Pawan Sinha, Annie Cardinaux, Riccardo Barbieri, and Hossein Netjati: Research in neuroscience has revealed compelling novelty-department modulation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system. Professor Sinha and his team used various course modules from the MITx library to insert short novel clips on diverse, unusual topics derived from a variety of sources such as NASA, PBS, and National Geographic. Students were asked to provide a rating for how engaging each video was, as well as measured for heart-rate and performance scores corresponding to each module. Data was analyzed to determine whether videos with ‘novelty insertions’ result in higher engagement and improved learning.
  • Computational modeling dialogic co-reading interaction for improving child-parent conversational turn taking – Cynthia Breazeal, Hae Won Park, Ravi Tejwani, Huili Chen: Learning language at a young age is very crucial for children’s later educational success. However, a major problem faced by many children from low socioeconomic status (SES) families today in learning a language is a lack of resources and developmentally important stimulation in their homes and schools. This lack of relevant resources and experiences for many young low SES children leads to a detrimental effect on their language and literacy development. Prof. Breazeal and her team explored how to implement an early childhood language intervention aimed at promoting and guiding parent-child interaction through a social agent with the ultimate goal of empowering low-SES parents and helping bridge the learning gap between low-SES and high-SES families.
  • Converting zombies into learners: Improving MOOC learner retention – Chris Caplice and Eva Ponce: Prof. Caplice and his team have categorized MOOC learners into three distinct groups: Leaners, Voyeurs, and Zombies. The learners watch lesson videos and complete work for grades, the voyeurs watch lesson videos but do not complete some work for grades, and the zombies neither watch videos nor complete any graded work. The percentages of these learners are roughly 5%, 25%, and 70% respectively. The objective of their research was to reduce the number of zombie learners, and reduce the number of learners dropping out of MOOCS through the design, development, and implementation of a range of tools and techniques.
  • Field experiments for education in cognitive science – Esther Duflo and Elizabeth Spelke: Poor children in the developing world are increasingly likely to attend school but often fail to master the elementary school curriculum. In India, most primary school graduates cannot pass simple math and reading taught in the first two grades, and even seventh graders may perform arithmetic only by counting tallies. Nobel Laureate Professor Duflo and her team worked with students in India, testing a suite of games developed by her team that aim to increase children’s readiness for learning school mathematics. The research is unique in its use of games that build on universal, early-emerging concepts of number and geometry that are the subject of intense research in cognitive science.
  • Understanding the impact of integration policies in New York City Public Schools – Professor Josh Angrist and Clemence Idoux: More than half those schools enrolled student populations consisting of 90 percent or more black and Hispanic students. In response to this challenge, two NYC districts (D3 and D15) have launched ambitious integration policies in 2019. Brooklyn’s District 15 has eliminated school screening criteria and set aside 52 percent of the seats in each school for students who are low-income. District 3’s schools still screen students but they set aside 25 percent of seats for students who come from low-income families, struggle on state tests, and earn low report card grades. Those plans generate interesting hypotheses about the links between improving diversity and academic achievement.Nobel Laureate Professor Angrist and his team analyzed the consequences of these integration policies in terms of application choices, matriculation decisions, and subsequent academic achievement. Given the scale of the plans and the availability of detailed application data, this constitutes a unique opportunity to analyze comprehensively the consequences of modern integration plans which have been receiving increasing attention.
  • Research exploring virtual experiences and learning (REVEAL) – Professor Eric Klopfer and Meredith Thompson: VR in itself does not “create” better learning. VR creates new opportunities for learners to represent and interact with ideas, and expands the reach of the classroom. To optimize the affordances of VR, Klopfer and his team considered two central questions: (1) When does VR enable more effective learning than traditional methods of presenting biology and Business As Usual (BAU) experiences (2) How might we understand how and when to use VR for different types of learning experiences? The study focused not only on whether VR is an effective tool but also on the topics where learning gains are the greatest. The current research has established the “proof of concept” that VR can help learning. 
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of real-time biofeedback to monitor and improve ability to sustain attention – Professor Pattie Maes and Nataliya Kosmyna: Professor Maes and her team used a pre-produced system called ‘AttentivU’, a device in a longer-term study with middle and high school children during home-based schoolwork, to evaluate whether biofeedback helps them focus, improves comprehension of the material as well as school performance. The team additionally tested whether extended use of the system improves their natural ability to be attentive and whether effects last when the student is no longer using the device.
  • Evaluation learning effectiveness of dynamically generated tutorials for acquiring skills in physical prototyping (laser cutting, 3D printing) and electronics (breadboarding, circuits) through virtual / physical gameplay – Assistant Professor Stefanie Mueller and Dishita Turakhia: Assistant Professor Mueller and her team measured the learning effectiveness of a new type of learning environment, in which learners acquire skills in physical prototyping (laser cutting, 3D printing) and electronics (breadboarding, circuits).  Their work was motivated by recent advances in virtual-physical game play, in which players use physical props as part of the game (e.g., a fishing rod made from cardboard + sensors is cast by the player to acquire virtual fish). While today these physical props are used to increase immersion in the game, they are not used to teach players skills in fabrication and electronics. The key idea behind the work is to use the process of building the physical prop as a learning experience in which players acquire technical skills.
  • Meta-LAD: Designing an adaptive  dashboard improving online learners’  metacognition as well as cognition - Eva Ponce (Ongoing): The main goals of this team’s research are (1) developing the Metacognitive-Learning Analytics Dashboard (Meta-LAD) which could identify learners’ profiles and personalize its metacognitive feedback to them and (2) improving learners' metacognitive skills and performance in the CTL SC0x course through the Meta-LAD.
  • The Reflective Maker: Studying the Role of Personalized Reflection in the Learning of Maker-Skills - Stefanie Mueller (Ongoing): While teachers have been trained to personalize reflection for each student by talking to them about their mistakes, such manual intervention does not scale to large classrooms. Thus, many teachers only provide generic reflection prompts, such as standardized questions for students to think about as they do the task. This, however, fails to personalize reflection for each students’ individual learning gaps. The goal of this research project is to measure if automatically generated personalized reflection prompts lead to better learning effectiveness than generic standardized reflection prompts that are the same for each learner.
  • Evaluating the Effects of Advanced Placement Coursework on Post-secondary Achievement - Joshua Angrist (Ongoing): The returns to college vary dramatically across fields of study. Well-documented disparities in college major choice may therefore contribute to later gaps in earnings. How do students decide what to study? Evidence suggests that students value both expected earnings and non-pecuniary factors such as expected career satisfaction and fulfillment. However, little is known about how earlier educational investments shape college major choices. The findings from this project stand to inform the active debate on the merits of Advanced Placement (AP) courses and the content of high school curricula. While over 9 out of 10 public school students are estimated to have at least one AP exam at their school, and over 40% of public high school graduates take at least one AP exam, significant gaps in AP access and participation remain.
  • Comparative study between students choosing internships vs self-guided  experiential projects within the ReACT program - Admir Masic (Ongoing): The purpose of this quasi-experimental study is to assess the learning effectiveness of an academic/behavioral intervention. More specifically, we aim to study the effect of offering structured mentoring opportunities in the ReACT Computer and Data Science (CDS) Certificate Program, and understand if/how it affects the learner experience and future work placement.

Over the past seven years MITili has been funding, connecting, and sharing research investigating learning effectiveness. The research ranges, for example, from scans of individual learners in Brain and Cognitive Sciences to applying data analytics to understand the implications of policy decisions in Economics to almost every department at the Institute. Studies focus on one or more of three broad demographics: birth through K12, higher education, and workplace learning. If you would like to help support MITili’s efforts you can give here.