Principles to practice

Incorporating insights from the “science of learning” into teaching practice and student achievement is the focal point of a $4.6-million grant awarded by the James S. McDonnell Foundation to Buehler Sesquicentennial Assistant Professor David Miele of the Lynch School of Education and a team of educational and cognitive psychologists from around the country.

David Miele
David Miele (Gary Wayne Gilbert)

The five-year project, Implementing Principles from the Science of Learning within Educational Practice, will investigate both students and teachers in settings that range from elementary school to college and will draw on findings from a number of different subdisciplines, such as cognitive, social, developmental, and educational psychology. These areas often operate independent of one another, said Miele, an educational psychologist whose research focuses on how students’ motivations, beliefs, and self-assessments influence their own learning.

The grant builds on two previous projects that Miele and other members of the team helped to carry out as graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. These projects investigated how student learning is affected by certain study behaviors and strategies, such as self-testing and spacing out study across numerous sessions.

“We are taking what we’ve come to understand about general principles of effective learning and exploring how this can best be applied in real educational settings,” said Miele. “It is very exciting to get to collaborate with a group of excellent researchers from across the country and to have the resources to work on things that can potentially advance classroom practice and student learning.”

In addition to Miele, other principal investigators on the grant are Andrew C. Butler of University of Texas at Austin, Shana K. Carpenter of Iowa State University, Jeffrey D. Karpicke of Purdue University, Timothy J. Nokes-Malach of University of Pittsburgh, and Sarah K. Tauber of Texas Christian University.

With funding from the grant, Miele and his colleagues will examine a number of factors that may have important implications for how best to implement principles of learning in educational contexts, such as the kinds of activities, materials, and learning objectives that teachers use in different classrooms. In addition, they will attempt to identify logistical, practical, and psychological barriers that may prevent teachers from successfully implementing these principles and figure out ways that these barriers can be overcome

“One of the long-term goals of this type of research is to provide students with the tools they need to learn effectively on their own – without teacher or parent supervision,” said Miele. “More than ever, it is difficult for us as educators to predict exactly what knowledge and skills students will require once they move on from formal schooling. This is because there are so many different types of careers they could go on to pursue. To really prepare them, we need to make sure students are equipped to teach themselves whatever it is they will need to know in order to be successful in their chosen career, and in life more generally.”

—Ed Hayward / University Communications