The science of learning is ready for takeoff

Linda Smith, David Crandall and Karin James talk about how IU Bloomington’s first Emerging Areas of Research initiative, “Learning: Machines, Brains, and Children,” will revolutionize our understanding of how children and robots learn. (Video credit: Cadence Baugh, Multimedia Project Specialist, Office of the Provost)


With support from IU’s first Emerging Areas of Research Grant, a large-scale investigation, titled “Learning: Brains, Machines and Children,” is ready to launch. The team, led by Linda Smith, includes eight PBS faculty members and four researchers from the School of Informatics and Computing.

It will be a fascinating story to follow—how the crosscurrents of developmental psychology, machine learning and human neuroscience give way to a transformational new science of learning, with IU at the cutting edge.

Knowledge of cognitive development and human neuroscience provides important clues to machine learning theorists. Likewise, machine learning algorithms provide clues for understanding cognitive and neural mechanisms.

“There is so much excitement across the country about bringing these three fields together,” observes Smith.

We’re on the edge of big advances.

Linda Smith

Yet, more than a series of experiments, the $3 million grant will enable the team to cultivate a broader community and culture at IU, building upon already formidable strengths to create a thriving center for the science of learning in Bloomington. The grant will also fund the hiring of three new assistant professors at the forefront of this interdisciplinary enterprise.

“Bringing three young faculty to campus who have grown up with the merging of these disciplines will be a real boon for the campus,” adds Smith. “We’re on the edge of big advances. The idea is that everybody succeeds when we have a culture and climate that is beginning to grow.”

In addition to Smith, the researchers include Olaf Sporns, Robert Goldstone, Karin James, Chen Yu, Mike Jones, David Landy and Franco Pestilli from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and David Crandall, Michael Ryoo, Martha White and Sriraam Natarajan from the School of Informatics and Computing.