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Hello, reader! This week we're focusing on the following questions:

  • Does the presence of a social robot, combined with gamification elements, encourage learning?
  • How do notifications impact learning?
  • Can background music enhance learning efficiency?

And, just a note -- we're taking a quick break next week but we'll be back on April 15 with more news from the science of learning. Enjoy this issue and have a great week!

Robots + Gamification = Learning?

Previous research has shown the benefits of introducing robots into the learning environment, and studies have also demonstrated the positive effects of gaming and gamification on learner engagement and motivation. But what happens if you combine robots and gamification? That’s the question posed by researchers from the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg in Germany. In a pre-proof article to be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, these researchers reported on their study, which examined the impact of their learning environment on motivation and engagement across four conditions: with a social robot, gamification elements, both, or neither.Their findings from the relatively small study (n=80) were surprising: there was no significant increase in engagement or motivation when adding gamification elements or the social robot, and in fact, when both items were present, learner engagement actually decreased. Why? The researchers speculate that the presence of gamification elements and the social robot together might have been distracting, but more research is needed. In other news, does anyone find this robot (used in the research)... weird? (Or is it just me?)

Key Takeaway: The important point here is that incorporating all of the things into your learning environment doesn’t enhance learning. Bells, whistles, animations, badges, pedagogical agents, tutors, robots, flip cards -- don’t just throw them all at the learner to see what sticks. Use your tools, tricks, and (debatably weird) social robots intentionally.

Read More ($): Donnermann, M., et al. (2021). Social Robots and Gamification for technology supported learning: An empirical study on engagement and motivation. Computers in Human Behavior.

The Distracted Brain

The dreaded ding of an incoming email. The chime that reminds you of your next meeting. The infamous “knock brush” notification from your favorite messaging platform. We all get these audible alerts at work (and some of us have anxiety about them). So, what are these distractions doing to your at-work learning? According to researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing, discrete auditory distractions (like my “favorites” mentioned above) have the potential to slow your learning and require more effort to stay focused. In fact, this specific type of distraction was the most disruptive for learners, compared to visual distractions (like pop-up notifications) or tactile ones (like a vibrating phone). The researchers concluded that “learning environment[s] should be kept as quiet as possible,” and even stated that learners should be discouraged from listening to “continuous auditory distractions,” like background music, when reading (Rau, Zheng, & Wei, 2020). Is this consistent with your experiences? Does listening to music improve your concentration? We’ll cover that topic next.

Key Takeaway: Based on this study, you’d be better off muting notifications when engaging in intentional learning, reading, or other activity that requires focus. (And, you may consider giving the same advice to your learners.)

Read More ($): Rau, P.L.P., Zheng, J., & Wei, Y. (2020). Distractive effect of multimodal information in multisensory learning. Computers & Education, 144.

Music & Learning: What Works?

When you’re driving in an unfamiliar place, do you turn the music down so that you can see better?

You’re not alone, but the reason behind it is still somewhat unclear. Researchers have disagreed for years on the effect that background music has on someone’s concentration while doing cognitively “heavy” tasks like navigating unfamiliar streets and learning complex subjects. (If you’d like to read more about the impact of music on learning, this 2020 meta-analysis may be helpful.)

In one study that examined the effect of background music on learning, researchers used Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 6” to determine if music had a negative impact on learners’ ability to recall, comprehend, and transfer learning content. This group of scholars asked the study participants to read information about Michael Jackson and Justin Bieber (no joke), and then answer questions; half of the participants listened to Mozart while reading, and the other half read in silence. The results of the study demonstrated that, overall, learners in the group with background music outperformed those in the group without background music in their immediate transfer outcomes. The researchers found that “learners, in fact, seemed to have engaged more intensively in learning when music was given” (Lehmann, et al., 2018, p. 91). One thing to note: the impact of background music on long‐term learning remains unclear. And, a question remains: if the learners had listened to a complicated vocal track (“Bohemian Rhapsody” comes to mind), would the results have been the same? I don’t know, but I’ll be jamming out to my favorite playlist while I do more research.

Key Takeaway: This one study, out of many, leads me to the conclusion that some music can enhance some types of learning for some people, sometimes. (In other words… more research is needed.)

Read More (open): Lehmann, J.A.M., Hamm, V., & Seufert, T. (2018). The influence of background music on learners with varying extraversion: Seductive detail or beneficial effect? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 33(1), pp. 85-94.

Building a Community

How and why do you build a movement around a shared identity and values? What benefit could it have for your organization? Those are the questions answered by this week's podcast guest, Sumeru "Sumo" Chatterjee, the founder of the super-active community at

Check out this week's episode on our site or wherever you get your podcasts.

Data Science for Everyone

Seven of the 10 fastest growing careers require workers to be data literate, yet most middle and high schools don’t teach students these valuable skills. One organization is helping to change that: Data Science for Everyone.

Led by leaders from higher education, the tech sector, schools, government, and the field of data science, the Data Science for Everyone Commitments Campaign is advancing policy and programmatic changes that will bring data science opportunities to every student.

You can join the campaign by making a commitment to expanding K12 data science opportunities. The commitment you choose is up to you - it’s a great way to showcase your existing work, replicate or expand an initiative, or take a totally new approach. Not sure what kind of commitment to make? Fill out the contact form on the website and they’ll help you figure it out, or join this free webinar on April 26 to learn more.

They're encouraging you to make your commitment by May 16 to show how you will take action on elevating the importance of data literacy. Let the data revolution begin!  🚀

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Shoutout to Ashley A., who just joined the LSW community and is already contributing in the most valuable way: by sending me pictures of Beau and the Great Catsby. This whole endeavor, by the way, is just my attempt to bring some cuteness to my own inbox, which is frankly lacking in the cute department. So, I'd like to thank all of you for sending me these adorable faces. It's the literal highlight of my week.

Beau is Ashley's research, editorial, and design assistant, as well as the best hiking and couch-surfing partner. (He's practicing his couch-surfing skills in the photo below.) The Great Catsby, as far as I can tell, is the most vicious creature -- he's clearly always in mouse hunting mode. (See the bottom picture for proof.) Thank you, Ashley!!

Beau, the couch-surfer
The Great Catsby

Would you like to contribute to the cuteness index of my inbox? Send me (hi, I'm Julia) 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!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Julia Huprich, Ph.D. Our head of growth and community is Julieta Cygiel.

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