Active Learning Sciences, Inc.

Principles that Make Courses Come Alive


  • Design courses and programs with cutting-edge, science-based active learning

  • Upgrade programs and courses to take advantage of cutting-edge, science-based active learning

  • Teach faculty and instructional designers how to use cutting-edge, science-based active learning

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Active Learning Sciences, Inc., builds on and extends the approach and principles in S. M. Kosslyn's Active Learning Online: Five Principles that Make Online Courses Come Alive.

Praise for Active Learning Online:

“I cannot tell you how excited I am by this book! It absolutely is my go-to recommendation in the space and is required reading for our whole curriculum team. It's the perfect combination of theory and application with 0% fluff. I was familiar with many of the concepts in it, but only after ridiculous amounts of reading and discussions around the topic. This seems to be the exact slice of the field someone needs to actually build a class with the best teaching techniques in active learning.”
- Aaron Rasmussen, Founder and CEO of, Co-Founder of MasterClass

"How do we ensure online learning lives up to its promise and potential? In Active Learning Online, Stephen Kosslyn equips educators everywhere by delivering fresh perspectives on the science of learning along with practical ways they can be applied in real life courses. For all the years I’ve been involved in adult learning and active learning, this book still surprised me with brilliant insights and made me think about how to implement his ideas.”
- Mary Hawkins, President, Bellevue University

"This is a phenomenally readable, concise and efficient summary of the current science of active learning and how it can improve your teaching. It is full of useful examples and clear explanations. While most of illuminating suggestions are applied to online teaching, the practical advice here will also easily be applied to any teaching situation. There is no better overview of this exploding field and there could not be a better time for this book. Read it in a morning and have your teaching transformed by the afternoon."
- Jose Bowen, President Emeritus, Goucher College

"At last--a book that summarizes principles from the learning sciences that is at once both accessible and actionable! Any educator at any skill level will be able to derive value from Kosslyn's valuable contribution to improve the experience they offer students.”
- Michael B. Horn, coauthor of Choosing College and Co-Founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute

“Stephen Kosslyn, one of the world's leading researchers on the science of learning, provides practical, easy-to-use methods that help students learn more effectively -- especially online, synchronously and asynchronously, and at scale. This book is an invaluable tool for all educators, and an enlightening resource for anyone interested in improving current education practices.”
- Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO, Coursera

“Active learning is a good idea that's rarely implemented. Stephen Kosslyn makes here a persuasive case for its adoption and gives a straightforward plan to create more engaging and effective courses. That's no surprise, because he effortlessly combines enormous insight and experience into creative solutions.”
- John Katzman, Founder and CEO of Noodle, and Founder and Former CEO of 2U and Princeton Review

"This small book contains big ideas about active learning, both online and in-person. Kosslyn bridges his knowledge of cognitive science with his experience in two education technology start-ups to provide a pedagogical handbook of sorts. Using engaging research studies, Kosslyn begins with an overview of basic cognitive functions, specifically how we organize, store and access information in memory. From here, he presents his own taxonomy of five learning principles: deep processing, chunking, associations, dual coding and deliberate practice. Then comes the lesson for instructors, as we come to appreciate exercises grounded in these principles. After reading this book, you will abandon the lecture for a brief lecture followed by active learning exercises, for example asking students to teach another student, to take the perspective or others through role playing or debate, to create content like a podcast and more. If your goal is to teach to make material stick with your students, and it should be, this book will be your guide."
- Kathleen McCartney, President, Smith College

“Every parent and student who were already online learners or who have been pushed by the pandemic into the online world should read this book. Professor Kosslyn has dedicated his academic life to the study of how human beings learn and has developed extremely valuable lessons in how to thrive in a virtual classroom.”
- Bob Kerrey, former U.S. Senator; President Emeritus, The New School

"This book is an essential resource for any teacher serious about optimizing their approach to online instruction. Dr. Kosslyn strikes the perfect balance between outlining key pedagogical principles and dispensing practical teaching advice."
- Stephen Bailey, Founder and CEO, ExecOnline

“Active Learning Online is an extraordinary work that will revolutionize the way you think about education, and will shape both educational practice and conversations about effective education for many years and decades to come.”
- Daniel J. Levitin, author of bestsellers This Is Your Brain on Music, The Organized Mind, and Successful Aging

“Drawing skillfully on a lifetime of teaching, conducting research, and leading educational institutions, cognitive psychologist Stephen Kosslyn distills the key components of effective education—online, as well as in the “live” classroom. This book is timely and should be useful for any instructor.”
- Howard Gardner, Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education  

Origin Story

I was a high school student during the 60s and—like many others—became obsessed with how to cure society’s ills. My idea then was that education was the key, and I’ve never let go of that idea. This was true even when I was utterly obsessed with a seemingly unrelated question. Let me put that question to you: What shape are a German Shepherd dog’s ears? Please try to answer. Most people report that when they try to answer they visualize the canine’s head and “look” at the ears in their mental image. And this is what I was really interested in. I wanted to know how the mind—and later, with the advent of brain scanning technologies, the brain—creates and uses mental images. Mental imagery bridges perception (what we take in through our senses) and memory (what we store in our minds), and since antiquity scholars have known about the power of mental imagery to enhance learning. My North Star idea was that understanding how mental imagery works should have direct implications for how best to teach.

Fast forward to the last few years of my three decades on the Harvard faculty. By that point, I had written four books on how research findings can help us make clear and compelling presentations and better communication graphics. I was increasingly interested in how to apply laboratory findings to real-world problems, and increasingly focused on education. This focus was heightened by my being one of six faculty to serve on a committee to revise general education at Harvard. I organized a lunch group of relevant faculty and administrators to discuss educational innovations. I immersed myself in the science of learning, which grew naturally out of my research and the four textbooks that I co-authored.

I left Harvard to return to Stanford (where I had been a graduate student) to run the venerable Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and soon was drawn into the Silicon Valley startup world. When I was invited to join Minerva, a newly minted start-up university, I jumped at the opportunity. Minerva was a very rare opportunity to design a university curriculum from scratch—not only the content, but also the teaching methods. All formal teaching at Minerva is online, in live seminars. Thus, this was an opportunity to begin to think about ways to teach online that were not just “as good as” traditional methods, but better. Minerva has been a resounding success.

But Minerva is a very elite university, taking a smaller percentage of applicants than Harvard. After more than five years at Minerva, I decided that I wanted to have a larger impact, I wanted to do something that would improve the lives of many people. I founded Foundry College to help working adults obtain the skills and knowledge needed for jobs that will not soon be automated. Because Foundry College was built to be used by thousands of students, I needed to change the teaching methods.

My efforts to design new teaching methods eventually resulted in my book, Active Learning Online: Five Principles that Make Online Courses Come Alive. Having written this book, I came to realize that the best way to fulfill my mission in life is not to teach students directly, but rather to teach teachers. And, more than this, to help others to use these methods to design new, cutting-edge programs and courses. Thus was born Active Learning Sciences. We aim to spread the word on science-based, highly effective pedagogy. We design programs, we design courses, and we design sessions. If you need to teach something, we can help you do so in a way that your students not only will learn easily, but have fun while doing so. Drop us a note… let’s talk!