LbSD podcast, episode one: Teaching with a scientific understanding of how students learn

Apple Podcasts logo Spotify logo


Learning by Scientific Design is a podcast series by Deans for Impact that explores how an understanding of cognitive science, or the science of how students learn, can lead to more rigorous, equitable and inclusive teaching.

What are some foundational principles of learning science? And how can they facilitate more effective teaching practices? In this episode, you’ll hear from:

  • Andrea Foster, Professor, College of Education, Sam Houston State University
  • Amber Willis, Program Director, Deans for Impact
  • Shannon Hammond, Assistant Professor of Special Education, College of Education, National Louis University
  • Leah Brown, Assistant Professor, School of Education, University of Alaska Fairbanks


As an experienced educator, Andrea Foster was used to the way she had been teaching future teachers at Sam Houston State University.

Then, in 2020, her dean invited her to participate in the Learning by Scientific Design network, a collaborative of program teams across the country that are redesigning coursework and clinical experiences using principles from cognitive science. Foster, alongside colleagues and faculty from other schools of education, dug into the research behind cognitive science and incorporated its principles to better prepare future teachers. 

Program Director Amber Willis explains, “A large part of our work is just helping them to understand what this work is. We provide them with the research behind the work that we do. We show them examples of what this work looks like through videos and have them analyze that and pull it apart to see, what does this work look like in action in the classroom?”

Some of the concepts of learning science include:

Attention to meaning, or keeping the students focused on the most important content

Shannon Hammond at National Louis University reflects: “If there’s a lot of information coming at us, any one individual is going to pick up something. But if we want to make sure they’re picking up the thing we want them to learn, then we have to make sure that we’re being as explicit as possible and that we’re not creating and implementing distractors.”

Examples and non-examples, which help students understand the subject matter at hand

A simple example would be an early elementary class learning about birds. The teacher might tell them that the traits of a bird, compared to other animals, is that they have wings. Introducing a non-example would be asking the kids why an airplane is not a bird. That non-example helps solidify what the child is supposed to be learning- what are the traits of a bird.

Effortful thinking, or questions and tasks provided to students to get them to think deeply and process particular ideas and concepts

There are so many activities that teachers can implement to engage their students, but they don’t always translate into durable learning for all students. When a teacher throws out a question to their entire class, and a few respond, “it becomes this dialogue between the teacher and just those one or two eager students,” Leah Brown at the University of Alaska Fairbanks explains. Part of effortful thinking is making sure all activities promote deep learning and meaningfully engage students.

Listen to the episode and subscribe for the full series via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or YouTube.


Interested in learning more about our work? Contact us.

Deans for Impact

All Blog Posts
Subscribe to Our Newsletter