SESP Adds New Undergraduate Learning Sciences Major

SESP Adds New Undergraduate Learning Sciences Major

Learning Sciences

With the increasing importance of learning in different contexts, the School of Education and Social Policy is adding a new undergraduate major in learning sciences. The new program builds on the strength of the School’s graduate program in the learning sciences, which has a 26-year history and was the first of its kind in the nation.

The new major, which will begin in fall 2016, will prepare students to be leaders in the understanding and design of innovative learning environments. The focus will be on three primary themes: cognition and learning processes, social and cultural contexts of learning, and designing for learning. The interdisciplinary program draws on current research and theory.

Why learning sciences?
"Out-of-school learning will become increasingly important in the coming decades as workers can now expect to pursue more than one career and change jobs many times over their lifetimes,” says Dean Penelope Peterson. “Accordingly, we need to prepare college graduates who can serve as leaders in helping to design innovative environments that effectively nurture and support learning both in school and in many different informal contexts including after-school programs, museums, community centers, online environments and workplaces.”

The new learning sciences program will be of special interest to students who want to pursue careers in education technology, instructional design, education in museums and informal learning environments, educational research, curriculum design, workplace learning and related fields. Potential employers might include school districts, museums and software design organizations.

Tailored course work
Students in the new major may choose one of three specializations:

  • learning in schools
  • out-of-school learning 
  • design of learning environments

A specialization will consist of five classes organized around a particular area of interest.

Depending on the specialization, the curriculum will include courses on topics such as the contemporary landscape of education, cognition in contexts, innovative learning environments and learning with new media. Beyond their core courses in life span development, social inequality and diversity, research and statistics, students will have the flexibility to tailor the program to their own interests.

All learning sciences students will complete a one-quarter internship for academic credit during their junior year. The practicum is an opportunity to put into practice the skills and knowledge introduced in the classroom. The experience also includes conducting social science research. This internships program is offered year-round in Chicago and during the summer in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Program development
A faculty committee chaired by professor Reed Stevens developed the program over the past year. Members on the planning committee included Learning Sciences faculty Bruce Sherin, Eva Lam, David Rapp, Mike Horn and Uri Wilensky, along with Susan Olson, assistant dean for student affairs.

For more information, students may schedule a visit with a SESP academic adviser, e-mail sespinfo@sesp.northwestern.edu, or call 847/491-3790.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 7/12/16