When I welcome new students to Stanford each fall, there’s one message that I always strive to communicate: The world they will graduate into is changing rapidly. Their future and careers will be full of change, and the most interesting jobs of the next few decades may not even exist yet. So, while it is important for them to learn what they may need for a first job or for the next step in their educational careers, it is equally—if not more—important for them to learn how to continue learning, and how to adapt as knowledge continues to evolve.
This reality—coupled with the fact that learning is correlated with everything from better health outcomes to economic security to increased civic engagement—means that the way we educate all students, from pre-kindergarten through the college years and beyond, must evolve. To that end, researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) are studying the best ways to prepare all students for lives of learning and adaptation, to support learners from marginalized communities, and to create educational solutions that can make a difference on a large scale.
As part of our Long-Range Vision for the future of the university, Stanford launched the Stanford Accelerator for Learning (SAL), a learner- centered effort based at the GSE that leverages the science and design of learning to develop new educational solutions. As a university-level initiative, the SAL leverages Stanford’s interdisciplinary strengths, combining insights from such disparate fields as neuroscience, data science, pediatrics, and sociology to reveal insights into how humans develop and learn. The accelerator then connects researchers with funding, infrastructure, technological resources, and external partners so that they can test their approaches and scale solutions for broader impact.
Through the SAL, researchers are exploring cutting-edge issues in learning—from how technology can provide better access to high-quality learning and opportunities to continue learning throughout a person’s lifetime, to how AI and data can help create more personalized and adaptive instruction and more precise feedback for learners and teachers alike.
The tool is being used by more than 30 schools and community-based organizations to identify struggling readers and provide them with support more quickly.
As just one example, Jason Yeatman, PhD ’14, an assistant professor of pediatrics, of education, and of psychology and the director of the Brain Development & Education Lab, studies brain development in children learning how to read. During the pandemic, his lab developed a new tool, the Rapid Online Assessment of Reading, in order to continue online the reading assessments that they had been performing in person.
The tool proved highly effective and reliable—more so, in some cases, than in-person assessments. Jason’s lab then partnered with local school officials to pilot and refine its use in schools. Now, the tool is being used by more than 30 schools and community-based organizations to identify struggling readers and provide them with support more quickly. At the same time, the tool is generating data that is helping researchers better understand the diversity of reading hurdles some children face.
The GSE is also focused on making education more accessible, equitable, and affordable. Through the SAL’s initiative on underresourced and marginalized learners, researchers are studying the roles of factors like poverty, race, identity, culture, and community in learning, and developing strategies to create inclusive learning environments.
Learning is one of the most important levers for improving lives around the world. As we look to how Stanford can contribute to solving the great challenges we face, it’s clear that deploying our university’s resources to advance the science of learning can have enormous impact. Improving how we design and organize educational opportunities has the potential to make life more fulfilling for individuals, and to make entire communities healthier and more productive.
Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.