From Research to Practice: How might we implement insights from the Science of Learning?

By Devin Vodicka

This past week I had the opportunity to engage in two very interesting conversations about the Science of Learning through my involvement with the Global Science of Learning Education Network.  First was an engaging live chat with Glenn Whitman, a history teacher at St. Andrew’s where he also directs the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning to learn more about how his school had used the Science of Learning to inform changes in their student schedule.  Next was a twitter chat about the importance of positive relationships.  This post will provide some background on the Science of Learning as well as some takeaways from these interactions.  Let’s dig in! 

Photo by David Cassolato on

What is the Science of Learning?

I like the way that Johns Hopkins Science of Learning Institute describes how the Science of Learning is an interdisciplinary field (emphasis added): 

​​Traditionally, research devoted to understanding learning has taken place in many different disciplines.  Basic research about the brain mechanisms underlying learning in humans and other species has traditionally taken place in the fields of Neuroscience and Biology; research about how the human mind “computes,” developing and using knowledge, has taken place in Cognitive Science and Psychology; research about how machines (e.g. computers and robots) learn has taken place in Computer Science and other areas of Engineering; and research about how learning occurs in the classroom has taken place in Education.  More recently, scientists and practitioners have recognized that understanding learning in all of its manifestations will require multiple approaches that span these disciplines and more.  The Science of Learning is an approach that recognizes the value and importance of cross-fertilization across traditional fields of study, drawing on many different methods and techniques to understand   how learning occurs— with the ultimate goal of optimizing learning for all.

Some of the key insights to date from the Science of Learning elevate the importance of malleability, context, individuality, relationships, integration, and meaning making.  

Use of time

While I have previously shared some ideas about how we might reimagine master schedules, I found it fascinating to consider the implications of research insights about retrieval practice, cognitive load, and even sleep science and how those findings might influence a more effective student schedule.  Listening to the St. Andrew’s journey was encouraging and inspiring.  For me, the most significant implications include a reinforcement of the benefits of a later start time, dedicated time for building relationships and community, and fewer classes each day.  I was also inspired to hear how student input was a key driver in the process to make decisions about the schedule.  


I have long been a believer in the power of relational trust and social networks as a foundation for meaningful change.  It is affirming to see that cognitive science also reinforces the importance of positive relationships to promote learning. Please check out the entire thread using #GSoLEN and here are a few of my favorite posts from the twitter chat. 

How to stay connected

Please check out the Global Science of Learning Education Network library for updates on new resources.  The Science of Learning and Development Alliance has also synthesized many of the findings that should be informing our practice.  Please also use #GSoLEN to share additional resources that you have found to be helpful.

Given the continued disruptions from the waves of this pandemic, staying grounded in the Science of Learning is an important way to ensure that we are focused on what matters most and making decisions to best accelerate learning.  As we reimagine our systems, we have an opportunity to incorporate insights from research to better serve our students.  And as we do so, the way forward is together.  I look forward to staying connected on the journey.  

Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.

Use #LCLeadership to share your ideas

Click here to sign up for the Learner-Centered Leadership email list

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