The great challenge facing today’s colleges is how to improve degree completion rates without increasing costs, or degrading the quality of the learning experience. Leading universities are betting that the answer to this vexing problem lies at the crossroads of recent advances in educational technology, and new research coming from the field of “learning science” — or the study of how people learn.

Cognitive and learning scientists determine how different approaches to course design and delivery impact the speed and quality of learning. Insights from this research are being embedded into the design of online courses today, resulting in online learning environments that are much more sophisticated than those produced in the early days of eLearning. 

Success through tech 

“As students engage with instructional elements online, they produce a rich data stream on the learning process."
Photo: Acrobatiq, LLC

Technology is also providing new opportunities to capture and analyze student performance within a course. As Dr. Marsha Lovett of Carnegie Mellon University and chief learning officer of Acrobatiq notes, “As students engage with instructional elements online, they produce a rich data stream on the learning process. Research has shown that such data— when combined with our understanding of how learning works—can be analyzed to yield key insights on students’ learning that, in turn, can be used to improve and personalize education.” 

Dr. Lovett co-developed The Learning Dashboard — a web-based application that analyzes and displays real-time data about student learning performance so that instructors can make more informed decisions about how to help their students succeed. 

Helping students succeed 

As more faculty and students realize the benefits of technology- enabled learning, evidence is mounting that online courses developed based on the science of learning can help students learn in less time, leading to improved course completion rates, and reduced costs. 

One study, led by President Emeritus of Princeton University, William G. Bowen concluded that students were able to learn as much as students in traditional classroom courses in 25 percent less time. Other studies have found even more dramatic results.