The Experiential Learning Lab

We are working to develop tools, content and procedures to bring experiential learning techniques to courses that teach concepts related to human behavior, perception and cognition. 

Well-conducted lecture demonstrations of natural phenomena improve students’ engagement, learning and retention of knowledge. Similarly, laboratory modules that allow for genuine exploration and discovery of relevant concepts improve learning outcomes. These pedagogical techniques are pervasive in natural sciences. 

Such hands-on experiences are less of a practice in psychology and other social sciences, particularly when human subjects are involved. Human psychology laboratories that can serve many subjects are very costly to set up and maintain. They often require a large room with numerous individual cubicles, each with its own computer. Moreover, the process of developing and running experiments requires substantial time, effort, and expertise.  All of this has precluded behavioral experimentation at a scale useful for educational purposes.

The pervasiveness of Internet-connected computing devices created an opportunity to conduct human subjects experiments remotely and at scale. However, because of potential challenges related to participant recruitment, data quality and the need for new software tools, large-scale online experimentation with human subjects is not yet pervasive in either research or education. 

We are building on our experience with running large-scale online human subjects studies via our Lab in the Wild and Test my Brain research platforms to enable rapid, large-scale and ethical online human-subjects experimentation in undergraduate courses related to psychology, social sciences and human-computer interaction (HCI). We envision deploying these techniques both in classroom environments and in massive open online courses. We anticipate that they will improve learning, self-efficacy and knowledge-retention in all settings. We also see this work as a step toward providing students in large online courses with exciting and pedagogically valuable experiences that are typically associated with small-scale, in-person teaching.

This project is supported by a grant from Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching and by a Google Faculty Research Award.