Lessons for learning: How cognitive psychology informs classroom practice

What’s next for the science of learning?

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What’s next for the science of learning?

We know much more about learning than we did 100 years ago. But what does this mean for education at large? There are many next steps for fields within the science of learning, including cognitive psychology.

First, we need to continue to demonstrate that these principles of learning apply for diverse students and diverse environments. Recent cognitive psychology research has taken place in urban and rural K-12 classrooms, as well as public and private colleges and universities. In addition, preliminary data demonstrate that brief in-class quizzes boost learning for students in special education (Agarwal et al., 2012) and that college students with lower working memory benefit more from retrieval practice than students with higher working memory (Agarwal et al., 2017). Even so, to truly push the science of learning from the laboratory to the classroom, more research needs to be conducted in partnership with teachers in diverse classrooms.

Second, we need to know more about student motivation. Why are some students inspired and driven to learn in school whereas other students are less motivated (despite some being avid learners for hobbies or sports)? How can we encourage students who have little interest in learning? We’ve all encountered a few lucky students who find an inspiring teacher with whom they click, increasing their drive to learn. But as far as we can tell, motivation is a complex cognitive process, and there are likely to be no panaceas here, no tried-and-true strategies that always work. Frequent retrieval practice (e.g., weekly mini-quizzes) can improve student engagement and student study habits, and instilling a growth mind-set may help some students, too (Dweck, 2006). Even so, we suspect that motivation is likely to be the next frontier in the science of learning, which will require collective efforts by developmental, social, and cognitive psychologists.

Lastly, we need to get knowledge about effective learning strategies (ones shown to work in both lab experiments and classroom studies) into the hands of teachers and learners. Today, a number of books, websites, and resources provide accurate information and helpful advice for both educators and students. (See, for example, retrievalpractice.org and learningscientists.org.) However, we have much more to do on this score. Research from cognitive psychology has powerful implications for learning, and the best way to make an impact is by disseminating and sharing this research with fellow educators. We hope you will join us in this effort as we continue to explore learning — and the science behind it.

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