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Learning Research Initiatives


Since 2011, Stanford’s online learning offerings have generated substantial interest from researchers worldwide. There is great excitement among scholars in communication, computer science, education, psychology, sociology, and many other fields about using digital learning platforms to build a data science of teaching and learning. Stanford is committed to nurturing an intellectually diverse community of researchers to develop this science.

Open Learning Initiative: The Open Learning Initiative (OLI) is a grant-funded organization that is designed to simultaneously improve learning and facilitate research. Directed by Candace Thille, the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) seeks to create high-quality online courses that directly contribute to research on teaching and learning. OLI is built around the idea that integrating formative assessments into the learning process to develop a fine-grained understanding of learning can profoundly enhance learning outcomes.  In order to leverage these data to their fullest extent, OLI integrates learning analytics into all of its courses. These tools empower instructors by providing them with detailed information about learner performance and misconceptions. In the aggregate, the data are also a rich source of insight for researchers. OLI openly shares its research and instructional products with other institutions and educators interested in the transformative power of data-driven learning science. OLI’s goals include:

  • Designing course materials based on cutting-edge learning science
  • Providing instructors and students with targeted and individualized feedback about theirs own learning process as it happens
  • Producing generalizable knowledge about teaching and learning within and across disciplinary contexts

Center for Advanced Research through Online Learning (CAROL): Stewards data from online learning environments to support scientific inquiry. CAROL also articulates standards for ethical governance of research through digital learning environments at Stanford and worldwide. CAROL manages data from digital instruction conveyed on multiple platforms, curates these data for purposes of research, and maintains computational tools for their analysis by experts in many fields. To date CAROL has carried out over one hundred data shares with professional researchers worldwide, sustaining a truly international and multidisciplinary scientific community.

Lytics Lab: Stanford is a world center for the new sciences of teaching and learning made possible by online instruction. Co-directed by John Mitchell and Candace Thille, Lytics is an interdisciplinary group of Stanford faculty, doctoral students, and visiting scholars who are using online learning environments to conduct research on teaching and learning. Current topics include:

  • Encouraging positive learning mindsets
  • Promoting constructive collaborations and enhancing learning through teams
  • Predicting and incentivizing learner persistence in online courses
  • Understanding gender inequities in computer science education

Lytics research is characterized by the application of advanced quantitative techniques from data science to theoretical questions generated by the social sciences. Lyticists share a commitment to leveraging the possibilities of massive data about learning to better inform the design of digital courses.


Education's Digital Future: During 2012-2014 EDF was convened as a hub for discussion of critical questions about education's digital future. A full generation has been living and learning online, yet participation in formal education is still largely accomplished face-to-face in physical space. This is changing rapidly. The goal of EDF was to help people think about and navigate this transformation – through coursework, town-hall forums, expert lectures, and ongoing exchange.

Stanford Digital Learning Forum: The Stanford Digital Learning Forum affiliates program was launched by VPTL to engage companies and other organizations interested in the future of learning in a digital world.           

The Asilomar Convention for Learning Research in Higher Education: A group of educators, scientists, and legal/ethical scholars has issued an ethical framework to inform appropriate use of data and technology in learning research for higher education.