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Our thanks this week go to readers Judith R. and Johanne M. for their suggestions of topics for this week’s newsletter. What would you like to see next week? Email us at

Science time!

Context Matters

In a two-and-a-half year study that included 250 million students across the globe, researchers Kizilcec, Reich, Yeomans, Dann, Brunskill, Lopez, Turkay, Williams, and Tingley (2020) iteratively tested established behavioral science interventions, like encouraging learners to make plans to complete the course and to write about how the course is valuable to them. Their findings: nothing worked for everyone; the most promising interventions only worked for certain learners in certain kinds of courses and contexts.

Key Takeaway: We need more scaled-up iterative scientific investigations that can uncover what works where for whom.

Read More: Scaling up behavioral science interventions in online education (June 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science)

Blast from the Past: Cognitive Overload

This one’s for you, Judith. We dug up an older (2010) article that gives a solid conceptual overview of Sweller’s cognitive overload theory, including some of the issues surrounding it. In it, author de Jong poses “some critical questions concerning the conceptual clarity, the methodological rigor, and the external generalizability of this work.”

Key Takeaway: Instructional designers are wise to be mindful of cognitive overload, but should also keep in mind that cognitive load is hard to measure, even with Paas’ (1992) one-question scale.

Read More: Cognitive load theory, educational research, and instructional design: some food for thought (March 2010, Instructional Science)

Let’s… Unlearn… Together?

Johanne M.’s suggestion of “unlearning” as a topic for this week’s email led us down a rabbit hole of research that uncovered some interesting articles, including one from Lyu, Yang, Zhang, Teo, and Guo (2020). In it, they posit that organizational unlearning, the process of shedding routines, beliefs, and knowledge, “can drive a firm's radical innovation.”

Key Takeaway: After reading this piece, I had more questions than answers: what, exactly, is organizational unlearning? How is it measured? How is it facilitated? And what characterizes “radical innovation?” More research is needed to clarify some of the points made in this article, but my interest is piqued!

Read More: Antecedents and consequences of organizational unlearning: Evidence from China (January 2020, Industrial Marketing Management)

Gamification to Increase Engagement

It’s easy to fall into the gamification-motivation trap: if you want learners to do something, just give them a badge, right? Not always. In a recent article, Ding (2020) reported findings from an experiment that included an increase in discussion posts from students who were more aware of the gamified experience, but it did not increase students’ sense of community.

Key Takeaway: Gamification can increase learner engagement, but only to a certain point.

Read More: Applying gamifications to asynchronous online discussions: A mixed methods study (February 2019, Computers in Human Behavior)‍

Nice to Meet You!

Thanks to Nyla Spooner (on Twitter @nylaLXD) and Blake Harvard (@effortfuleduktr) for their time this week -- it was great chatting about learning! Follow them on Twitter (and us, @LearnSciWeekly) for more learning-related content.

And now, pet time.

Our thanks this week go to readers Judith R. and Johanne M. for their suggestions of topics for this week’s newsletter. What would you like to see next week? Email us at

Pets of Learning Science

Judith was kind enough to send not one but four pictures of her puppies. Thanks, Judith! It was hard to choose just one, but here’s the super-adorable Cookie.

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!