Applying Cognitive Science to Online Learning

9 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2014

See all articles by Joseph Williams

Joseph Williams

National University of Singapore

Date Written: 2013


Online educational resources like videos and exercises are playing an increasing role in the education of thousands of students, via both MOOCs and blended education in classrooms. Taking advantage of the progress in scientific research on learning, this paper considers some practical implications that emerge from synthesizing research in cognitive science, presenting actionable instructional tactics that any designer or instructor can take advantage of to improve students’ learning. These target the complementary goals of enhancing both motivation and cognitive processing. Motivation can be increased by fostering students’ beliefs that intellectual capacity is malleable and can be improved through effort and use of effective learning strategies. Cognitive processing can be enhanced by augmenting online videos and exercises with questions and prompts for students to generate explanations: before, during, and after learning. These instructional strategies provide students with direction while allowing them to take charge of their learning, are technically easy to implement, and are applicable to online resources across a wide range of topics.

Keywords: learning, cognitive science, MOOCs, educational software, online learning, blended learning, digital resources, motivation, growth mindset, problem based learning, explanation, self-explanation, retrieval practice, interleaving, mixing, spacing

Suggested Citation

Williams, Joseph, Applying Cognitive Science to Online Learning (2013). Available at SSRN: or

Joseph Williams (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore ( email )



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