In pursuit of providing a facility where researchers can create rigorous, theory-based experiments that will pave the way to an understanding of robust learning, the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center has created seven highly instrumented technology-enhanced courses, called LearnLabs. These courses include two high school math courses, Algebra and Geometry, two college-level science courses, Physics and Chemistry, and three college-level language courses, Chinese, French, and English as a Second Language. Courses incorporate intelligent tutoring systems and face-to-face and computer-mediated peer, tutor, and instructor interactions. Use of technology-enhanced courses will produce volumes of high-density data both on the short-term consequences of variation in learning processes and on effects of these changes on long-term retention, transfer, and accelerated future learning (i.e., robust learning). Technology will facilitate realism in learning studies by making it feasible to embed experimental manipulations in the context of real courses that persist over weeks, months, or years.
In vivo experimentation
LearnLab courses are intended to support a new paradigm for experimentation on human learning called in vivo learning experiments. In vivo learning experiments are distinguished from existing methodologies by combining rigor, precision, and a connection with theory most typical of laboratory studies with realism and generalizability more commonly afforded by classroom studies. Rigor, precision, and theory connection are possible in in vivo learning experiments through:
- Tight control on instruction, possible at a very fine-grained level,
- Random assignment of students to conditions,
- “Microgenetic” data logged over multiple interactions in order to observe student behavior during a period of learning or change, and
- Data coded in terms of cognitive theory.
Realism and generalizability are essential elements of in vivo learning experiments as experiments:
- Take place in real courses taught in real schools with diverse student populations,
- Occur over realistic durations of time, and
- Allow data to be captured well before, during, and well after the experimental intervention.
Robust learning, in terms of long-term retention, transfer, and accelerated future learning, will be measured within the unique paradigm of in vivo learning experiments.