Exploring the Mystery & Potential of Human Learning

Technological platforms are creating unprecedented global access to new educational opportunities. But we do not know the extent to which students using these systems are learning. As educators and researchers, we must partner to ensure that these platforms not only deliver information, but also include useful metrics, standards and methods that maximize learning outcomes.

The creation of Carnegie Mellon University’s “Simon Initiative” marks a seminal moment in educational innovation.

Built on the core principles of learning advanced by CMU’s Nobel Laureate and pioneering educator, Dr. Herbert A. Simon, whose work linked cognitive models of learning with computation tools, the Simon Initiative makes the learner its focus and measurably improving learning outcomes its goal.

The Simon Initiative will harness the university’s vast technology-enhanced, educational ecosystem that has emerged over the last several decades: faculty, departments, and centers focused on improving pedagogy, advancing research and leveraging technology; a large existing learner-interaction database for understanding learner experiences; seed-funding of new ideas and activities; spinout companies; and the scientific vision and interdisciplinary creativity for which CMU is renowned.

The Simon Initiative will also bring together leading universities, foundations and companies in a new Global Learning Council [pdf] led by CMU to partner in this important effort and develop best practices. Collectively, these interrelated components will help us solve the mystery of human learning.

The Simon Initiative will improve education for Carnegie Mellon students and for millions of learners around the world. At scale, it will transform the learning experiences of students everywhere, making them as personal and powerful as a private tutor, whether the students are studying online or collaborating in a residential setting, while being robust enough to benefit millions.

Advances in learning science and technology offer transformative potential in education and training nationwide, supporting the work of excellent educators to address longstanding issues of equity and accelerating the country’s return to educational leadership. We as a country need to implement more proactive approaches to realizing that potential in education, as we have in other sectors. Providing a platform that can attract world class talent and significant public and private resources is a critical step forward. Efforts like this new one from Carnegie Mellon will advance this vital conversation.
- U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

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Herb Simon

Why Simon?

CMU’s history in the learning sciences began in the 1950s, when Nobel Laureate and CMU Professor Herbert A. Simon became one of the founding fathers of artificial intelligence.

His subsequent pursuit of the nature of intelligence helped lay the foundation of cognitive science. In the process, he crossed disciplinary boundaries of half a dozen fields, setting a precedent for collaborative research that the university and the Simon Initiative exemplify.

Sharing Rich Data Globally

Drawing on the expertise and resources of university, industry, and government members, a data bank consortia will collect and store thousands of high-quality data sets, accumulate the best analytic methods available and create a large research community enabled to improve education through empirical research.

Sharing data is rare; using the methods of others to replicate findings is even rarer. The data bank will support a new vision of leveraged interdisciplinary collaboration. Building on one of the largest repositories of learner-interaction data available in academia, the data bank aims to make this resource widely known and accessible to learning researchers and technology developers.

How it will work »

Improving Teaching & Learning

As a hub for faculty and program-level support in the area of technology-enhanced teaching and learning, CMU’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation works with individual CMU faculty and programs and serves as a leading global resource.

Improving the Campus Experience

Through appropriate and targeted use of technology in and out of the classroom, students and faculty can be more effective and efficient. This leads to more time for student/faculty interactions in active learning endeavors.

The students and faculty on campus will benefit from years of developing new paradigms via the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center, Open Learning Initiative and the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation.

Co-coordinators of the Simon Initiative

Justine Cassell, Charles M. Geschke Director, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

Ken Koedinger, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction & Psychology, School of Computer Science and Dietrich College, Carnegie Mellon University

Marsha C. Lovett, Director, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation; Teaching Professor, Department of Psychology, Dietrich College, Carnegie Mellon University