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Putting the science in Udemy’s learning platform

jessBy Jessica Ashraf, Teaching and Learning Specialist, Udemy

People come to Udemy to learn something, and we want their time on our site to be worthwhile and rewarding. It takes a lot more to ensure a good learning experience than simply offering courses, however, and this is where learning science comes in. We’ll be spending some time on the Udemy blog exploring the field of learning science and the role it plays in our marketplace.

Introduction to learning science
Learning science, simply put, is the study of how people learn, and it informs how learning environments are designed. It draws upon research from fields like educational psychology, cognitive science, computer science, and anthropology. What distinguishes learning science from these related fields is its focus and approach.

Learning science seeks to bridge the gap between research and practical application. Learning scientists develop theories and frameworks about learning from which they can devise strategies and implement them in learning environments. Most of this research is conducted in real-life settings, unlike other disciplines where research happens in very controlled, unnatural settings. Not surprisingly, new technologies and online learning models are a major focus in the world of learning science these days.

Applying science to the student experience
Learning effectively on your own is actually quite hard. You have to make a lot of conscious and sometimes nonintuitive decisions before you even get started, and countless potential distractions and barriers can get in the way of your progress. For example, you may believe that rewatching a video is good for absorbing its content, but “recalling” is actually more effective, though it’s also more difficult.

First, you have to decide you want to learn something. Then you need to figure out which course to take and focus your attention there, somehow blocking out Facebook, YouTube, or whatever else you’ve got open in other browser tabs. You’ll also have to discipline yourself to complete exercises presented by the instructor and to stay engaged over the duration of the course.

Given the size of our marketplace (11 million students and counting), Udemy caters to a vast audience of learners, and we can’t control for all their distractions and personal environments. Many people taking courses on Udemy describe themselves as motivated, self-directed learners—the type who are naturally inclined to push through any interruptions in their quest for knowledge. Nonetheless, we have built Udemy to be a distraction-free, easy-to-use platform that’s engaging, rewarding, and conducive to learning for all sorts of students. We do our own user research and testing to determine the best online content, tools, and interfaces for learning.

Learning science @Udemy
Learning scientists are constantly developing new strategies for how people can learn best in our quickly evolving, technology-driven world, and we’re following the latest thinking to see how we can apply those concepts to Udemy. We tap into the science of learning for everything from product development and strategy planning to creating training resources and offering individual support to instructors. I may have “learning scientist” in my title, but everyone else here cares deeply about offering the best possible learning experience to Udemy students too. We all read up on best practices for online teaching and learning and gather cross-functional groups to share ideas.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably a little passionate about learning too! Stay tuned for future blog posts where we’ll dig deeper into learning science and discuss how insights from learning science research are put to use at Udemy.