What Exactly is the Science of Learning & What Does it Look Like in the Classroom?

the science of learning hands connecting wires on a board main

The science of learning is an interdisciplinary approach to determining how students learn (cognition). It takes advantage of neuroscience, psychology, and educational tools. The scientific method, which we all learned in middle school science, is a process used to obtain information and reach confident conclusions. Science of learning employs the scientific method. It’s a helpful teaching tool, especially if a team of educators is involved in carrying it out. 

I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter on the science of learning on social media.  The U.S. National Science Foundation twenty years ago invested in six “Science of Learning Centers” across the US.   Science of Learning initiatives have now sprung up across the globe.  What is it?  

Teaching and Learning

Let’s say you are a history teacher.  You have a class on the American Civil War.  There is available a set curriculum that you have to teach to your students.  

How exactly do you try to teach this material?  What will work best with the material, the students, the demands of the school, and your own personal style and abilities?

This can be broken down in two ways: how we teach and how the students learn.  How we teach will be influenced by how students learn.  Methods of teaching, known as teaching philosophies, can be learned about here.   Our concern here is how students learn.  

How Students Learn 

The process of acquiring knowledge through thought and experience is known as cognition.  Cognitive learning is a fancy way of saying the science of acquiring knowledge.  

We have long studied how children learn.  The 18th Century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a pioneer in the study of child education, including discussing how children acquire knowledge.  Jean Piaget is a leading 20th Century expert in this area.  

The “science of learning” is an approach developed in recent years that recognizes the complexity of how we learn.  It involves various disciplines to obtain insights about learning.  The science of learning is particularly concerned with the scientific method.  



The science of learning draws on research from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and education to understand the processes through which we learn. 

Psychology focuses on the mind and behavior.  Neuroscience focuses on the brain’s structure and the regions that are activated when people engage in various tasks.  Education provides real-world lessons on how students learn in the classroom.  

Let’s take an example of how these can be combined to help students learn.  Scientific research has determined triggering certain parts of the brain can help encourage learning. Praise, for instance, can trigger an emotional response that helps make a student more open to learning.  

Once kids are engaged, the teacher can then use various techniques to communicate the lesson plan and make sure students are properly learning it.  

The science of learning is an interdisciplinary process. It uses a range of techniques to understand how students learn and apply them in the classroom.  

Scientific Method 

The scientific method is a helpful way to communicate your lesson plan to students in a way that helps them to better learn and retain the information.  

The scientific method is based on observation and experimentation to prove a theory is correct. It promotes a more open mind, doubting even well-accepted beliefs that exist without proof.  

Using the scientific method teaches the brain to logically examine and process all the information it receives.   It is not just for science class.  The scientific method teaches a student to think.

This method uses the means that our brains process information, including the use of our senses to examine the world, to advance learning.   It also helps to avoid mental errors that result from the mistaken analysis of information.  The science of learning is put to work.  

Scientific Method Steps 

There are six basic steps to the scientific method:

  • Ask a question
  • Do some research
  • Formulate a hypothesis
  • Test with experimentation
  • Record and analyze observations and results
  • Draw a conclusion

Teaching is not merely a matter of rote teaching of facts (as we all already know). It is still is a favored approach for some educators who wish to indoctrinate students.  It also is a way to teach basic facts like dates in history. 

Education, however, involves more.  It involves the ability to reason and analyze and THINK.

Students should be encouraged to ask questions, both to the teacher and to themselves as they study. 

After posing a question, the student can research the question, or examine the information they have on hand.  

Once they have the proper amount of information, they can reason out an informed guess, a hypothesis.  

After the student makes an informed guess, they should test it.  This would involve performing an experiment to see if the guess works out.  

The child then notes the results and determines if their original guess was appropriate.  They also can see if they can repeat the experiment.  Their hypothesis should be able to be applied each time.  It is now a proven conclusion

For example, a student might have a question regarding a theme in literature class.  They would follow the basic steps.  Does their reasonable guess of how characters act in a novel work when they research the book and apply it to the characters?  Does the guess apply in each case throughout the book?  

Science of Learning in the Classroom 

The average teacher has a lot on their plate.  They might feel that it is hard enough to teach their material and keep the peace in the classroom.  Are they scientists as well?!

As a teacher, you can use the science of teaching as a tool to help you teach.  Ideally,  schools would have people particularly educated in the various aspects of the science of learning, such as neuroscience and educational methods.  

An educational team can be formed to provide various insights, including psychologists to help explain how students’ minds work and how best to reach students with special needs.  

It is asking a lot of each teacher to understand all the aspects of the science behind learning.  

The science of learning does provide helpful insights into how students learn.  A more modest approach can provide the teacher with some useful tools. This includes the use of the scientific method, which is a way to teach a student how to think logically.  

Children spend a great amount of their time in school.  The science of learning can help make it a productive learning environment.  


The “science of learning” is an appropriately generic-sounding term. It boils down to determining how students learn and employing it in your classroom.  This entails a range of research areas.  No wonder I saw so much material on social media.  Now, it is time to get ready to apply it to the classroom.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.