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Program Details

Grant Program: Cognition and Student Learning
Contact: Dr. Erin Higgins
(202) 706-8509


The Cognition and Student Learning (CASL) topic supports research that capitalizes on our understanding of how the mind works to inform and improve education practice in reading, writing, mathematics, and science, and study skills. The long-term outcome of this research includes an array of tools and strategies (e.g., instructional approaches, curricula, assessments) based on principles of learning and information processing gained from cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience and documented to be efficacious for improving learning in education settings.


Between 2002–2019, NCER has invested over $230 million in the CASL program to support 170 research projects.


CASL began as a topic area in fiscal year (FY) 2002 and was one of the first programs competed through the National Center for Education Research’s (NCER) grants competitions. CASL was developed to support innovative research at the intersection of cognitive science and education practice.

CASL researchers have explored, developed, and tested for efficacy a number of new approaches to teaching and learning, some of which are easy and inexpensive to implement, and others that transform how we think of learning in the classroom.

Example: Researchers are developing and evaluating curricula that emphasize spatial thinking skills, which have been shown to underlie learning in math, as opposed to curricula that just teach math content.

Example: Researchers are identifying study strategies like test-enhanced learning that improve learning outcomes and that are relatively easy to implement in the classroom. The main idea behind test-enhanced learning is that students remember information better on a later test if that information was actively retrieved through a series of low stakes quizzes instead of just passively restudied.

Why is CASL Unique?

Through CASL, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) provides a mechanism for cognitive scientists to bring what they have learned from the laboratory to authentic education settings, such as classrooms. IES encourages applicants to this program to actively engage with students and practitioners when formulating their research plans to facilitate the identification of research questions that are meaningful and practical in authentic education settings.

The Role of Practitioners
Involvement of practitioners helps to ensure that the materials, tasks, assessments, and interventions developed and evaluated through the CASL topic are appropriate for the age of the students and the setting in which the research is being conducted and/or the setting in which the intervention or assessment is intended for use.

The research coming out of this program has proven time and again the value of bridging these fields both to further inform our understanding of how the mind works as well as to improve education practice.