MIT launches initiatives to accelerate learning research, applications

While many MIT programs have explored new approaches to learning and teaching, Sarma says, “The only thing that was missing was: ‘What’s the science behind it?’”

MITili will combine research in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, economics, engineering, public policy, and other fields to investigate what methods and approaches to education work best for different people and subjects. The effort will also examine how to improve the educational experience within MIT and in the world at large, at all levels of teaching.

“What’s exciting is that technology is making one rethink all the fundamentals of teaching and learning,” says Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, who has helped to define the frontiers of learning science.

“There’s very little objective evidence that the standard forms of teaching are as effective as they could be.” The new initiative’s research “will look at both fundamental mechanisms of learning that are relevant to education and also be involved in evaluation or assessment of ways in which we think we can improve learning,” he says.

The findings that spin out of MITili will then be applied to improve teaching on campus and online.

“By applying a strong research basis to existing campus efforts in scaling educational access, we can continually improve those learning experiences,” says Professor Eric Klopfer, director of the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program. “Research can guide those improvements to go well beyond efficiency and investigate ways that we engage more diverse audiences, excite and motivate the public about complex science and engineering concepts, and create generations of inventors and problem solvers. On campus this provides the further benefit of creating a venue where the MIT community can share expertise and improve our own knowledge and skills in this critical domain.”


The preK-12 STEM learning announcement builds on decades of work by many groups at MIT to strengthen and revitalize learning by students from pre-kindergarten through high school.

Dozens of MIT programs exist to serve these students and their teachers, and new efforts continue to emerge, such as the Teaching Systems Lab, established last spring with a $10 million gift from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Connected Learning Initiative x (CLIx) announced in India last week and funded by the Tata Trusts, which aims to use digital tools to bring active learning experiences to more than 150,000 secondary students in more than 1,000 schools in rural India. The new element added today is a pK-12 faculty advisory committee, chaired by Belcher, that will connect, coordinate, and magnify the impact of the numerous independent initiatives focused on this age group.

Next page: Enhancing residential education

Laura Ascione