Connecting the education community with research on learning — from


When designing a program or product, many education leaders and ed-tech developers want to start with the best knowledge available on how students learn. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

Although thousands of academic articles are published every year, busy education leaders and product developers often don’t know where to start, or don’t have time to sift through and find studies that are relevant to their work. As pressure mounts for “evidence-based” practices and “research-based” products, many in the education community are frustrated, and want an easier way to find information that will help them deliver stronger programs and products — and results. We need better tools to help make research more accessible for everyday work in education.

The Digital Promise Research Map meets this need by connecting education leaders and product developers with research from thousands of articles in education and the learning sciences, along with easy-to-understand summaries on some of the most relevant findings in key research topics.


Also see:











The future belongs to the curious: How are we bringing curiosity into school? — from User Generated Education by Jackie Gerstein


A recent research study found a connection between curiosity and deep learning:

The study revealed three major findings. First, as expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information. More surprising, however, was that once their curiosity was aroused, they showed better learning of entirely unrelated information that they encountered but were not necessarily curious about. Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it. Second, the investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the brain circuit related to reward.  Third, when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit. (How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning)




From DSC:
Jackie’s posting reminded me of what Daniel Willingham asserts:  “Memory is the residue of thought.”  | “We remember what we think about.”

So to me, if you can’t get through the gate — get someone’s attention — you have zero chance of getting into their short-term memory, and thus zero chance to get into that person’s long-term memory.



Along these lines, if a student is curious about something, their motivation level increases and they actually THINK about something. (What a concept, right?!)

But the point here is that what a student thinks about now has a chance to make it into that student’s memories…thus, creating a variety of hooks on which to “hang future hats” (i.e., make cognitive connections in the future).





Addendum on 11/24/15:

[Re: Emily Pilloton, founder and executive director of Project H Design] Her talk focused on three aspects of learning:

  • Seeking > Knowing. Pushing beyond your comfort zone is the way to challenge yourself. As mentioned above, Pilloton believes in experiential learning, in challenging students with big projects where they will learn new skills as needed to complete the project.
  • We > I. Teams and building trust in your teammates is critical. All of Pilloton’s projects are so big that no one person can complete them alone. By being forced to make decisions and learn to work as teams, group members realize that as a collective, they can achieve much more than they could individually.
  • Curiosity > Passion. Encouraging curiosity is more important than helping people find their passion. Pilloton argued that it is hard for many young people to know their passion. If we encourage curiosity and give students the opportunity to push the boundaries of what they think is possible, we provide them the opportunity to both build confidence and find their passion.

Here Comes Generation Z — from by Leonid Bershidsky


If Y-ers were the perfectly connected generation, Z-ers are overconnected. They multi-task across five screens: TV, phone, laptop, desktop and either a tablet or some handheld gaming device, spending 41 percent of their time outside of school with computers of some kind or another, compared to 22 percent 10 years ago. Because of that they “lack situational awareness, are oblivious to their surroundings and unable to give directions.”

Members of this new generation also have an 8-second attention span, down from 12 seconds in 2000, and 11 percent of them are diagnosed with attention deficiency syndrome, compared to 7.8 percent in 2003.


Also see Sparks & Honey’s presentation:






From DSC:
I have been wondering about the possibility that gaining students’ attention is becoming harder and harder to do.  The above items seem to confirm that attentions are, in deed, shrinking.  We must get through “the gate” (i.e., getting someone’s attention)  if we want to have a chance of getting something into someone’s long term memory.




So what should professors, teachers, and trainers do? 

For me, this is where things like active learning, project-based learning, and real-world learning come in.  Highly relevant, hands-on learning where we turn over more control to the student, helping them own their own learning.  We need to provide more choices as to how students can meet the learning objectives. 

More choice. More control. Tap into their passions and internal motivations, introduce more play and more opportunities for students to display and cultivate their creativity.

The following article also has some solid thoughts/ideas that seem very relevant for this topic:

  • The Science of Attention: How To Capture And Hold The Attention of Easily Distracted Students — from by Saga Briggs
    Excerpt from section entitled, “Tricks for Capturing Your Students’ Attention“:
    1. Change the level and tone of your voice.
    Often just changing the level and tone of your voice – perhaps by lowering or raising it slightly – will bring students back from a zone-out session.
    2. Use props or visuals.
    Presenting a striking picture related to your topic is sure to get all eyes on you. Don’t comment on it; allow students to start the dialogue. Here are a few resources on how to use animations and storyboards as a teaching tool.
    3. Make a startling statement or give a quote.
    Writing a surprising statement or quote related to the content on the board has a similar effect. In a lesson about linebreaks in poetry, write, “I am dying” on the board, wait a minute, and continue on the next line with “for a bowl of ice cream.” See what kind of reaction you get.
    4. Write a challenging question on the board.





5 ways to reduce cognitive load in eLearning — from by by  Matthew Guyan


  1. Present some information via the visual channel and some via the verbal channel
  2. Break content into smaller segments and allow the learner to control the pace
  3. Remove non-essential content
  4. Words should be placed close as possible to the corresponding graphics
  5. Don’t narrate on-screen text word-for-word


From DSC:
Thanks Matt for a well-written, concise, beneficial posting here.  I especially appreciated the quick review of the Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) as well as the 5 suggestions to reduce cognitive load (with the goal being to move content into peoples’ long term memories).







The New Storytelling Frontier — from by Katherine Brodsky

Excerpts (emphasis DSC):

Long gone are the days of static content. Consumers are looking for more and transmedia storytelling offers an increasingly popular approach for creating property-based universes. Transmedia content itself is also evolving. It’s becoming more dynamic, more interactive, offering greater opportunities to engage audiences with creative user-generated content that adds to the storytelling experience. It is becoming more communal.

Although traditional models allow for greater control of content, strategies that can engage fans more actively and allow them to express themselves and even contribute to the development of a show, get them more involved and, ultimately, more willing to buy in.


From DSC:
As the use of storytelling is a powerful tool for learning, I can’t help but wonder…

  • What might be some creative possibilities arising from the developing world of transmedia that students and/or educational organizations could develop?
  • In what ways could we build more interactivity and social networking into our “digital textbooks” and mobile-based applications?
  • Would transmedia-based content help maintain interest, engagement, attention?
  • Would it help establish longer term memories/recall?
  • How might it help build students creativity and foster more experimentation/play/participation?
  • What roles might students play? (Writer, videographer, sound designer, actress, programmer, game designer, project manager, entrepreneur, etc.)
  • What tools and skills would students need to create their own transmedia-based experiences?
  • What new forms of storytelling might evolve from these efforts?
  • Could transmedia work its way into blended learning models?
  • Are new opportunities for immersing oneself in a particular subject matter becoming more available through transmedia-based experiences?
  • Could streams of content be wrapped in transmedia-based experiences?










From DSC:
With thanks going out to Mr. Steve Knode for his excellent newsletter (his April 2013 Emerging Information Technologies (EIT) newsletter in this case) that pointed this resource out.





Harvard researchers: frequent tests increase retention in online learning — from by Andrew Winner


A pair of researchers at Harvard University think they’ve got part of the answer. In a study run by Daniel Schacter, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Psychology, and Karl Szpunar, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology, they found that interspersing short quizzes into online learning course can dramatically increase student retention of material.


What if the hokey-cokey really is what it’s all about? Social networking & psychology of learning — from Donald Clark


Psychology of learning in 5 words
What makes good learning practice? Well, I always think the psychology of learning can be summed up in three wordsless is more’. You could add another two ‘…and often’. There’s a number of established and well researched ways to improve memory and therefore learning:

Grad student turns heads in Norwegian schools with technology-charged pedagogy — from by DC Brandon; with thanks to brian k (@iEducator) for posting this on Twitter


Salerno says using video games in the classroom is a sure-fire way to get students excited about learning. She used the example of a social studies unit that students are taught in Norwegian schools. In one particular unit, they usually read a textbook chapter about famous explorers. In the game-based version of the unit, textbooks may be used but are not relied upon.

So how does she incorporate video games into a social studies lesson?

She uses a Microsoft product called Kodu, although she says there are many other software products that could be used, like Minecraft and Little Big Planet.

She breaks the unit down like this (from the perspective of a student):

  1. Choose an explorer to profile
  2. Research the explorer’s history online and in textbooks
  3. Create game map (games require planning to be successfully built)
  4. Create game details and missions, mark out important plot points
  5. Build world
  6. Build in characters and plot in the form of missions
  7. Demo game to classmates on “gameday”


Also see:

The  article, “Technology changing how students learn, teachers say,” reminds me of the graphic below. It appears that teachers now have a definite answer to the question I was asking back in June 2010:


If attention can be visualized as a it getting harder to get through the gate?


Excerpt (emphasis DSC):

Teachers who were not involved in the surveys echoed their findings in interviews, saying they felt they had to work harder to capture and hold students’ attention.

“I’m an entertainer. I have to do a song and dance to capture their attention,” said Hope Molina-Porter, 37, an English teacher at Troy High School in Fullerton, Calif., who has taught for 14 years. She teaches accelerated students, but has noted a marked decline in the depth and analysis of their written work.


Bottom line:
Like so much in life, we have very little control of most things. Students are changing and we cannot control that situation — nor should we seek to. Why? Because most people I know — including myself — do not like to be controlled.  We can and should attempt to pulse check these sorts of changes, plan some experiments around them, and then see and report on what works and what doesn’t work.  This all relates to something I saw on earlier today on Twitter from Anya Kamenetz (@anya1anya):

If you declare a no-media classroom, you better be damn fascinating.



Also, a relevant quote:

The biggest problem area for teachers is students’ attention span, with 71% saying saying entertainment media use has hurt students either “a lot” (34%) or “somewhat” (37%) in that area.

— from Children, Teens, and Entertainment Media: The View From The Classroom
A Common Sense Media Research Study – NEW REPORT
November 1, 2012
Download the full report

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