MITili and Open Learning discuss the science of learning with J-WEL members

Steve Nelson
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Jeff Dieffenbach, Associate Director of MITili and Aaron Kessler, Senior Learning Scientist with MIT Open Learning, addressed members of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) about the science of learning and how we can use findings from learning research to improve learning outcomes.

Dieffenbach frames the science of learning into three main components: learner, instruction, and policy. Through that lens, MITili works with scientists and researchers on campus to investigate all aspects of education and how MIT can help make learning more effective.

“When we look at the learner, we look at how prior knowledge, motivation, interest, or physiological readiness effect the learner’s ability to learn,” said Dieffenbach. The instruction platform involves differences in content, delivery, and assessment, while policy changes include laws, access to education, funding, leadership, and broad-scale measurement. Dieffenbach also spoke about MIT’s commitment to researching all demographics of learners, including pK-12, higher education, and lifelong (workforce) learners. 

Dieffenbach touched on education research and possible outcomes for use in the classroom and beyond including spaced learning. “The longer we go between learning and testing, the more it helps to have our learning spaced out.” Another strong example of practical research is interleaving, that is rather than practicing the same learning over and over, learners can switch learning tasks and come back to the original task after learning a series of different tasks. With interleaving, scores of those who mixed learning were stronger than those who practiced the same learning back to back to back.

“Think about the implications these results might have for the way you think about the presentation of curriculum and materials within a section of a course or a whole course,” said Kessler. Dieffenbach and Kessler concluded with the idea that spacing and interleaving are actually closely related and can help make a drastic impact on changing a curriculum.