UW-Madison Department of Educational Psychology - Learning Sciences

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Main Office

Educational Psychology
School of Education
859 Education Sciences
1025 W. Johnson Street
MadisonWI  53706-1796

Tel: 608/262-3432
Fax: 608/262-0843

Email: edpsych@education.wisc.edu
or by contact form

About Learning Sciences

Learning Sciences is an interdisciplinary field that draws on multiple theoretical perspectives and research paradigms with the goal of advancing knowledge and application of knowledge about human learning and development. Though the Learning Sciences program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is quite broad and includes sustained research from pre-school age and throughout the lifespan, we cultivate particular expertise in learning in school settings and the professional workplace. Our program has a particular emphasis on building and researching evidence-based, technology-enhanced learning environments.

 The graduate program in Learning Sciences emphasizes four major goals:

  • To develop a strong foundation in research, principles, and theory in Learning Sciences as the basis for growth over a professional career.
  • To develop capacities and skills for applying learning sciences methods and theories to problems and issues in classroom instruction and professional education and the acquisition of knowledge and skills.
  • To develop the capability to conduct high quality educational research that contributes substantively to the scholarly literature.
  • To develop the skills necessary to study cognitive learning processes in the field.

Our scholarship encompasses the coordinated design and study of learning environments ranging from preschool to university education and beyond, and reaches outside of school to informal contexts for learning, like video game playing, workplace settings and after-school programs.

Learning Sciences takes a broad approach to principles of cognition such as memory, problem solving, spatial reasoning and the effective representation of knowledge, computer-based education, as well as social, cultural processes and embodiment in collaborative and project-based learning, STEM education, instructional communication.

Several themes are central to research in Learning Sciences:

  • To bridge the divide between research and practice.
  • To extend beyond limitations of theories of learning and cognition for specifying effective design instruction.
  • To embrace the importance of analyzing and assessing complex interventions, through experimental and design-based research and network models.
  • To emphasize the learning and behavior of the individual in interaction with the physical, social, and cultural world, as well as with semiotic and technical resources.

Course Work

The Learning Sciences program emphasizes an apprenticeship model of scholarship with early engagement in substantive problems of learning and teaching. Students work in concert with faculty to develop research studies in each of the first two years of study.

Courses are coordinated to promote the development of research and communication skills, so that students can become involved with important problems in educational research. Course work is designed to develop a broad-based foundation and an interdisciplinary approach to issues in Learning Sciences. Although a core sequence of courses establishes this foundation, most course work is tailored to individual interests and needs.

As students progress in the program they continue to work with faculty, both within and outside of the department, to craft systematic investigations of learning environments. Students are encouraged to take courses in the departments of Psychology, Computer Sciences, Curriculum and Instruction, Linguistics, Anthropology, and Philosophy. These departments, as well as others, are involved in interdisciplinary efforts that define Learning Sciences.


The intent of Learning Sciences research is to develop evidence-based claims about how people learn that have theoretical, practical, and pedagogical implications.

Given this focus on intertwining theory and practice through both field-based and laboratory research, Learning Sciences frequently involves carrying out design and implementation experiments. These experiments are intended to improve the education of all learners, but often have particular emphasis on finding solutions for minority and disadvantaged students for whom achievement gaps are a continuing problem.

Researchers in the Learning Sciences attempt to understand the nature and conditions of learning, cognition, development, and related areas of human performance, and they investigate cognition in its material, social, and cultural contexts.

Students are encouraged to become involved in research activities early in their graduate program. Some students work closely with faculty members on research grants as a research or project assistant. Others work on a project of their own design with assistance from their advisor and other faculty members. Publications frequently result from these efforts.

Several facilities on and off campus provide excellent resources that aid research. The School of Education's Media, Education Resources, and Information Technology (MERIT) Library offers several national information retrieval systems, such as ERIC and PSYCH LIT, through their on-line databases. The Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Lab (AADLC) is a Madison-based learning technology research and devlopment center that partners with UW.

Many project organizations located in the School of Education are concerned with effective schooling, including cognition and instruction, such as the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) and the former Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools.

Master of Science for Professional Educators (MSPE)

The Learning Sciences area participates in the Department's Master of Science for Professional Educators degree program, which is designed for teachers who plan to remain in the school setting. These programs involve study toward a non-thesis Master's degree.

The program is designed for individuals who want to improve their knowledge base and skills for functioning in educational settings. The program is built around educator needs and offers a flexible blend of course work, independent study, and practicum experiences. It is designed to provide the student with an individualized program of theoretical and applied training, tailored to his or her interests, needs, and professional goals.

Students may concentrate in a particular interest area within Learning Sciences, such as: cognitive development; accommodating learning needs of individual students; classroom computer applications; teaching problem solving and reasoning; teaching mathematical problem solving; and others.


Most students in this area pursue a PhD degree and plan a career in college teaching and research. Federally sponsored and private research organizations and software firms provide additional employment opportunities.

Area Faculty

To learn more about the research, teaching, and other career information of the area faculty, visit the Faculty & Staff directory page.

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