Science of Learning

  • Dr Amir Zarkesh, CEO and Cofounder, PolyUp
  • Gloria Tam, Associate Dean, Minerva Project
  • Prof Irwin King, Director of of the Centre for eLearning Innovation and Technology (ELITE), Chinese University of Hong Kong

This panel looked at the application of Science of Learning through the two case studies of PolyUp and Minerva.

Science of learning studies the principles behind superior learning performance, from engagement, motivation, behavioural change to learning.  It is about how the brain reasons, learns, memorises and comprehends, turning sensory stimulation to working memory and long-term memory with the ability to encode and retrieve knowledge. Tam points out 3 myths that are negated by the science of learning:

  1. Traditional learning is dead:  The psychological mechanism (the brain) of learning has not changed, though the context of learning has changed.
  2. Learning is more effective when we adopt superior technology: Technology could  be an enabler of effective learning if it is based on the  science of learning. It does not have to be high tech.
  3. Learners have different modes of learning: There is no evidence for this but multiple sensory learning helps.

Tam shared the two maxims of the science of learning, underlined by 16 principles:

  1. Think it through actively processing information using multiple cognitive systems
  2. Make and use associations to connect new information with what one already knows

Learning data and Impact: Zarkesh introduced PolyUp, an online learning platform that breaks the boundary of math, computer science, robotics and geometry by enabling learners as young as kindergarten kids to create their own “Minecraft”. It allows unlimited creativity and facilitates cooperation across countries.

PolyUp has a unique capability to capture every step of thinking behind the learning. Through the support of the Schmidt Family Foundation and the research support of WestEd (a San Francisco based non-profit research institute), PolyUp conducted a study to look into the efficacy of its learning platform. The study found out that in a short 5-week period with 2 hours of activities, there was a 27% improvement in the math performance of 5th graders and two times improvement in their attitude towards math. 

Zarkesh introduced their Open Education Research Anonymous Datalake (OERAD) initiative to build a global STEM standards data bank that will be open to researchers from any country. This is a joint non-profit project with Stanford University, WestEd and CTA Foundation for Teaching and Learning. They are identifying partners in Asia and look forward to working with an institute in Hong Kong.

Responding to questions from the audience:

  • Both speakers believe that the learning process is the same in different cultures. The only difference is the communication process. Tam points out the value of active learning and interleaving, allowing interval times for students to reflect and ‘daydream’. 
  • There is a need for educators to understand the principles of science of learning and how they could be applied in teaching. Learning engineering is becoming more and more important to bring academic research to life.
  • Creativity is transferable in different educational contexts. Building habits of mind is important. We need to integrate and find a balance between the traditional dichotomy of a structured curriculum and self-directed learning. 

Learning Science of Learning: The audience is welcomed to approach the speakers to learn more about the subject and their work. Zarkesh believes that the best way is to learn from students. King also highlights the importance of continuous assessment, setting goals and expectations.