What We've Learned
The SoLD Alliance works to enact our mission by communicating the science of learning and development in relevant and actionable ways, and by serving as a multidisciplinary, field-building force.
What Does the Science Say?
To elevate the converging knowledge from the science of learning and development, the SoLD Alliance assembles this knowledge into several initial findings, which are overlapping and need to be understood in an integrated way. When considered together, they have profound implications for the structure and culture of education systems and, in particular, for efforts to advance equity.
This list of key findings below is, and always should be, a work in progress. As our work in the science of learning and development continues, we will learn and say more about these and other findings, and their implications.
Every child has great potential. Each child develops billions of neural pathways providing significant potential to learn and thrive. In every child, these include pathways to mastery of key knowledge and skills, as well as to great success and fulfillment if we match their interests, needs, and abilities with opportunity and support.
The brain is highly malleable, from birth through adolescence and beyond. People continue to develop and learn throughout their lives. Their brains are remarkably malleable and resilient in regard to both learning new things and overcoming challenges, particularly during early childhood and adolescence. The brain’s remarkable plasticity paints an optimistic picture of what is possible for each child’s learning and development, and of the potentially positive impact of well-designed approaches.
Every child learns and develops differently. Each child learns and develops along pathways as unique as their neurological make-up, genetic expression, background, personal and relational experiences, and how they make sense of those experiences. Whereas learning and development are neither uniform nor linear, each child’s pathways can be identified, developed, and enhanced. Recognizing the individuality of each child is key to unlocking potential.
Experiences, environments, and cultures are the defining influences on development. Nothing happens to the developing brain and body that does not happen in context. Experiences, physical environments, and a young person’s various cultural contexts shape their brain architecture and genetic expression and impact how they learn and develop. Although adversity can have significant negative effects, positive, nurturing, culturally-responsive, identity-safe, and instructionally-rich learning environments and experiences – in and out of school – can have profound, positive impacts on the developing brain.
Strong, trusting relationships are essential to learning and development. People are intrinsically social beings. The existence of positive, committed, trusting relationships in a young person’s life is essential to learning and can buffer the impact of adverse childhood experiences and even trauma.
Intentional integration accelerates learning. The developing brain becomes increasingly complex and specialized as neural structures become more interconnected and the brain becomes more integrated. The developing brain learns best and expresses its fullest potential when affective, cognitive, social, physical, and emotional development are intentionally integrated within and across learning environments. This integration is how the brain develops complex skills to do increasingly sophisticated tasks. Integrated, comprehensive experiences accelerate student learning, development, and the expression of each child’s potential.
Human development is a progression, but not a linear one. Learning and development, while jagged and non-linear, is progressive and continuous – with mastery of complex knowledge and skills building on more foundational ones. Progress along the individual continuum of learning and development is based on the right degree (for each learner) of challenge and productive failure that allow mistakes to be opportunities for growth.
People continuously make meaning, consciously and unconsciously, of the ideas, concepts, experiences, and relationships they encounter, and of the cultures in which they live. An individual learns most effectively when provided with opportunities to connect new information and experiences to knowledge and experiences that have come before, seeking patterns and clues for how ideas relate and how they can be combined to produce interpretations that make sense in the context of their life, history, interests, and cultures. By reflecting and making sense of their learning within their social and cultural contexts, individuals build knowledge in ways that can develop greater motivation and agency and form a stronger foundation for future learning.
MORE TO COME
The lessons from the science shows that all children have talents; that all children can succeed in intentional, well-designed, developmental contexts; and that the methods we currently use to develop, measure, and categorize ability are inadequate for, and in many cases undermining of, our goals. The challenge before us, given the barriers built into current systems, is to transform the purpose and core pillars of those systems, not simply to reform them.
Current educational systems:
Standardize around a mythical “average” student and are not designed to serve the interests, abilities, and needs of each and every child.
Perpetuate deep structural racism and implicit bias that continue to marginalize students of color, students with learning differences, English learners, and other groups of students.
Fail to operate based on knowledge from the science of learning and development or a shared commitment to equity, resulting in less optimal decision-making on behalf of students and society.
If education is to be equitable, then it is necessary to transform our nation’s education systems –to ensure that they are deeply informed by the science of learning and development and designed for equity.
Realizing this vision will require great change in the nature of our education systems themselves – to break industrial-age compliance culture, and function as deeply integrated learning systems that are themselves designed to be malleable, to integrate the growing knowledge from the science of learning and development, and to learn and improve over time.
How the Science of Learning and Development Can Transform Education
This foundational brief from the SoLD Alliance summarizes several initial lessons from the science of learning and development which have significant implications for those working to advance opportunity, equity, learning, and youth development.
Implications for Practice
The SoLD Alliance findings have implications for where, when, and how learning happens. Along with our initial findings, we identified the following K-12 practice implications that can catalyze systems change:
A positive school climate that promotes strong attachments and relationships, a sense of safety and belonging, and relational trust.
Productive instructional strategies that connect to student experience, support conceptual understanding, and develop metacognitive abilities.
Development of social-emotional skills that promote positive habits, and mindsets that enable self-regulation, interpersonal skills, perseverance, and resilience.
System of supports that enable healthy development, meet student needs, and address learning barriers.
"The Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) confirms what City Year AmeriCorps members know to be true from their work in schools every day: every student is uniquely talented, and when the right conditions are in place, including access to developmental relationships, they will thrive in school and reach their full potential."
- JIM BALFANZ, PRESIDENT, CITY YEAR
How Can I Learn More?
In addition to the resources we’ve created and curated on the Resource page, the SoLD Alliance synthesized and articulated initial research from diverse fields covering the science of learning and development and implications for educational practice.
Beginning in 2017, we synthesized converging findings from research on the science of learning and development, which affirmed the great potential in each and every child, and illuminate several key findings that have significant implications for education systems.
In 2018, the SoLD Alliance articulated these findings in two peer-reviewed papers (provided below) authored by founding SoLD partners and published in Applied Developmental Science along with eight elaborative commentaries:
Malleability, Plasticity, and Individuality: How children learn and develop in context, by Pamela Cantor, M.D., David Osher, Juliette Berg, Lily Steyer and Todd Rose
Drivers of Human Development: How relationships and context shape learning and development, by David Osher, Pamela Cantor, M.D., Juliette Berg, Lily Steyer and Todd Rose
The findings from the science also have significant implications for teaching and learning, and they point the way toward numerous evidence-based practices that should deeply inform the core work of the education and youth-serving fields. The SoLD Alliance articulated practice-related findings in a third peer-reviewed paper (see below), which was also published in Applied Developmental Science along with four commentaries:
Implications for educational practice of the science of learning and development, by Linda Darling-Hammond, Channa Cook-Harvey, Lisa Flook, Brigid Barron, and David Osher
These lessons from research and practice, in turn, have significant implications for education policy across multiple dimensions – to remove barriers to action, create incentives for change, provide vital resources and systems, promote and protect equity, build mechanisms for scale, and more. In 2017, the SoLD Alliance published the brief, The Role of Policy in Advancing the Science and Practice of Learning and Development, to articulate potential policy shifts.