Skip to Content

Learning Lab Research

The Learning Lab's features and functionality are based upon extensive and ongoing research and evaluation into how educators and their students use online resources for instruction and professional development. The following research summaries and full reports document the methodologies and results of this work.

Ongoing Research Reports

August 2017
Documenting the Use of the Smithsonian Learning Lab Among Smithsonian Museums, Research Centers, and Programmatic Offices
Concurrent with the Learning Lab’s launch in 2016, several Smithsonian divisions started using the platform. This report presents eight case studies highlighting internal usage for the purposes of distance learning, training, curatorial research, fundraising, and partnership-related initiatives.

June 2017
Early Learning with the Smithsonian Learning Lab 
The Smithsonian Learning Lab succeeds as a platform for parents to use with young children. This finding is new, as previous research has been with teachers and school-age children. This project focused on conducting research necessary to make the Learning Lab useful as a collaborative learning tool for underserved families with young children. The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access collaborated with the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center to conduct observations and interviews with underserved Washington, D.C., families. The learning objective was that parents would know how to build children’s language and thinking skills using technology within the context of an engaged conversation.

April 2017
Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access/Lenovo “Week of Service” Youth Activity Projects Evaluation Report
The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA) collaborated with Lenovo, a multinational technology company, for the development, implementation and evaluation of educational hands-on activities for elementary and middle school students. The Learning Lab was used to create collections that accompanied each activity. These collections could serve as a set of instructions to implement the activity and/or as a part of an activity to offer a context for the students by providing other pertinent resources.

January 2017
Understanding the Needs of Student Users of Digital Smithsonian Resources
This study’s goal was to lend additional insight into how digital systems, tools, pedagogy, and content, can be adapted to better meet students' learning needs. How could we change the Learning Lab to make it as useful to young users as it was designed to be for educators? Specifically we addressed these key questions:

  • What are the ways that students engage with digital content in academic settings?
  • What are the motivations for student use of digital content?
  • What are the interface requirements/scaffolds needed to enable and enhance student engagement with rich digital resources

January 2017
Integrating Authentic Digital Resources in Support of Deep, Meaningful Learning
This white paper describes instructional approaches that apply to successful teaching with the Smithsonian Learning Lab. After defining its use of terms such as deeper learning and authentic resources the authors review the research basis of three broad approaches that support integrating digital resources into the classroom: project-based learning, guided exploration of concepts and principles, and guided development of academic skills. These approaches find practical application in the last section of the paper, which includes seven case studies.

Foundational Studies

October 2012
Digital Learning Resources Project
The Digital Learning Resources Project revealed what a next generation digital toolset can and should do. It specified how the Learning Lab could help teachers to more effectively identify, analyze, and extract specific Smithsonian digital learning content, increase their skills, and assist them to make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding, as well as increase the creativity of their teaching.

October 2010
Remedial Evaluation of the Materials Distributed at the Smithsonian Institution’s Annual Teachers’ Night
Teachers’ Night was an annual event hosted by the Smithsonian that provided free teaching resources to thousands of teachers. The goals of Teachers’ Night were to raise awareness about the education resources offered by the Smithsonian and to help teachers incorporate Smithsonian collections and resources into the classroom. This evaluation was to determine if this second goal for the annual event was being actualized. The evaluation process involved three stages: a literature review, analysis of comments by teachers on Smithsonian digitally-accessible lesson plans, and a series of focus groups and in depth interviews with participating teachers.

Published Research Papers

September 1, 2017
Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education
A Design-Based Research Approach to Improving Professional Development and Teacher Knowledge: The Case of the Smithsonian Learning Lab
Incorporating technology in classrooms to promote student learning is an ongoing instructional challenge. Teacher professional development (PD) is a central component of teacher education to support student use of technology and can improve student learning, but PD has had mixed results. In this study, researchers investigated a PD program designed to prepare a cohort of middle school social studies teachers to teach with an online resource, the Smithsonian Learning Lab. They examined how an iterative, design-based approach used teacher feedback to develop learning opportunities in the PD. Using the technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge framework (TPACK), they found that through four iterations of 1-day PD workshops, PDs afforded teachers increasingly individualized and meaningful opportunities to learn. Teacher feedback emerged as a central component in the changes and development of the PD series. Through the course of the PD, teacher knowledge increased across five of seven TPACK domains.

January 15, 2016 
Museums and the Web 
Moving from downloads to uploads: Toward an understanding of the curricular implications of access to large scale digitized museum collections on the professional practice of K–12 classroom educators 
The need for museum strategy to be audience driven is now directed and enabled (in an accelerated way) by digital technologies. This allows, or requires, museums to understand the intersection between the needs of those it hopes to serve and the capacity of its own organization to meet them: to provide customized experiences and opportunities to unique audience groups. Educators are one of museums' historically most-valued audiences. Opportunities to have greater impact with teachers, their students, and the learning experiences they create, are great—greater than in the past, when museums focused on adult programming, school visitation, and exhibition-centered lesson plans. These new opportunities lie primarily in the utilization of museum collections and resources within the classroom, where the teacher can make use of them in ways that fit naturally into the learning process they have already developed for their students. To enable this, as we should, museums need to understand this group and how they use digital assets to design and deliver learning experiences. This study looks towards the development of a reusable framework for addressing this need through an understanding of the evolving role of the museum in the education space, the process and knowledge bases required for teachers to be designers of learning resources, and finally the ways that technology itself (in this case, primarily the Web) changes the nature of teaching and learning. The framework proposed is used to develop a survey instrument that is then tested through a case study of an emergent digital platform for teachers, the Smithsonian Learning Lab.

January 15, 2015 
Museums and the Web 
From physical to digital: Recent research into the discovery, analysis, and use of museums resources by classroom educators and students  
Museums have long identified teachers and their students as primary audiences. Through object loans, lesson plans, and more recently digital resources, our institutions have recognized the potential for the narratives told through exhibitions to reach students outside the museum walls. Many of these traditional models no longer reflect the realities of the contemporary classroom, one being rapidly transformed by budget shortcomings, evolving teaching standards, and the potential of new technologies. Museums are uniquely positioned to play a greater role in formal education. In order to meet this potential, museums can benefit from understanding the needs of these audiences and the capabilities of their institutions to meet them. Since 2010, the Smithsonian, through its Center for Learning and Digital Access, has conducted a series of research projects to better understand how teachers and their students use museum learning resources. This formal paper will share the results of the following five independent, yet progressional, studies and offer usable best practices garnered from a meta-analysis of their results combined with other recent literature in this field: 1. Remedial Evaluation of the Materials Distributed at the Smithsonian Institution’s Annual Teachers’ Night (2010) 2. Capturing the Voice of Customer, a Satisfaction Insight Review of SmithsonianEducation.org (2011) 3. Digital Learning Resources Project (2012) 4. Increasing the Discoverability of Smithsonian Digital Resources: Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) (2014) 5. Piloting Tools to Enable Active and Participatory Learning for Middle School Students: Facilitating Digital Learning with Smithsonian Digital Resources (2014) A meta-summary of these research findings, combined with recent literature, will be shared as a suite of best practices for connecting museum assets with teachers and students.

Blog Posts About Our Research

April 19, 2017
How Will Your Students Use the Learning Lab?

January 21, 2015
What We Have Learned So Far: Teacher Research and Prototyping

November 24, 2015
What We Have Learned So Far:  Environmental Scan (Part 1)

November 24, 2014
What We Have Learned So Far: Environmental Scan (Part 2)

October 30, 2014
What We Have Learned So Far: Literature Review

October 15, 2014
Who Is Our Audience: SmithsonianEducation.org

October 14, 2014
What We Have Learned So Far: The Digital Learning Resources Project