campus news

New institute to focus on the science of learning

Concept of the science of learning.


Published February 15, 2024

Christopher Hoadley.
“Research on learning has the most impact when we link it to changing the systems that help people learn, including not only schools and universities but also technologies and organizations in the community. ”
Chris Hoadley, director
UB Institute for Learning Sciences

Learning is a lifelong process, and everyone has the potential to learn, but individual capacities, experiences and access to resources influence the nature, pace and effectiveness of that learning. Those factors, and many more, are  driving researchers in the Graduate School of Education to focus on the science of learning.

And now, thanks to funding provided by the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, UB is home to the Institute for Learning Sciences.

“Through this institute, UB will be well-positioned to take the lead on research proposals and collaborations to advance the field of expansive learning sciences,” says A. Scott Weber, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “We recognize the important role the institute plays in harnessing our internal talent, as well as in creating partnerships with the community to advance vital interdisciplinary research in this field.” 

Learning sciences is an interdisciplinary research community focused on the study and design of how people learn in different contexts, as well as the systems that can support or inhibit learning.

“Going beyond the psychology of how individuals think and learn, learning sciences encompasses fields ranging from anthropology to computer science, from design to neuroscience, and from communications to policy,” says Chris Hoadley, director of the institute, professor of learning and instruction, and computer science and engineering.

Learning sciences, Hoadley explains, also addresses how culture and institutions can shape learning, the design and deployment of technologies that can support learning, and how contexts, identities and collaborations that enable learning can be supported.

“We now understand learning not as something that happens in one person’s head, but as a byproduct of people, their relationships, the contexts we inhabit, the tools and technologies we use, and the cultures and organizations with which we engage,” he says. “So learning must not merely help people assimilate static school curricula, but also to develop resilience in addressing humanity’s most pressing problems: economic, political, ecological and social, including pervasive problems of social inequality.”

Hoadley says the institute will provide an infrastructure for research and training testbeds in three key impact areas: expansive community learning, advanced applications of technology and design for expansive learning, and transforming UB into an expansive learning ecosystem.

As director, Hoadley heads the Learning Sciences Institute and is supported by partnering deans, staff, students and a core group of 19 faculty across multiple disciplines.

“We bring together faculty and students in key fields such as learning and human development, health, human-computer interaction, psychology, design and engineering to work with and in the community, design the learning environments of the future and transform the university’s role as a knowledge partner,” he says.

The primary mission of the institute is to conduct sustained, systemic and interdisciplinary research and design in the learning sciences in order to transform learning to be more impactful and equitable. The institute will function as an intellectual hub, a home for grants and a nexus for cross-decanal academic programming.

The Institute for Learning Sciences will continue to build on strengths in several areas: academic research on learning, design and development of technologies (including UB’s strength in AI), and community-engaged scholarship in New York State and beyond.

“Research on learning has the most impact when we link it to changing the systems that help people learn, including not only schools and universities but also technologies and organizations in the community,” says Hoadley.

Learners and learning must also adapt to the rapidly shifting landscape of new technologies, (mis)information and new ways of communicating facilitated by technology.

“Our hope is that UB ILS becomes a one-stop shop for people who want to bring the best available current insights on research and development in learning to bear on important societal problems,” he says. “This could be educational institutions that want to partner with us on R&D, from schools to higher education, from workforce training to informal learning settings like museums or makerspaces, and importantly, with groups of people across organizations working on a big problem where learning is critical.”

Plans for moving the institute forward include inspiring change by uniting faculty, students and learners in the community.

“The future of learning sciences will be shaped by connecting like-minded faculty and students across disciplines who share a passion and ambition for not just studying but creating the future of learning both in and out of schooling,” Hoadley says.