“We aim to spread the word on science-based, highly effective pedagogy.”
S. M. Kosslyn - Founder of Active Learning Sciences, Inc
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!
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