PhD in Learning Sciences & Technologies

Doctor of Philosophy

Doctoral candidates in WPI’s Interdisciplinary PhD in Learning Sciences & Technologies merge social science and educational psychology with computer science to forge inroads into improving educational processes and outcomes both in and out of schools. Our research propels high-quality educational research and technology forward with world-renowned faculty and well-funded and supported research opportunities that help bridge the gap between research, practice, and policy.

Value Proposition Description

WPI’s program researches the intersections of psychology, educational technology, and classroom interventions from many perspectives, and you’ll be able to find your exact fit here. Your research might include testing cognitive theories of learning, assessing if children react best to video or text feedback while they’re doing homework, or exploring how teachers, schools, or communities can better impact educational outcomes.

Breakthroughs like these keep the nation’s education and technology systems globally competitive, but, more important, they improve student performance, motivation, and confidence.


Using a blend of Cognitive, Developmental, and Educational Psychology, Advanced Quantitative Methods, and Computer Science courses, you’ll develop a broad understanding of learning theories, and learn how to best determine what kinds of learning environments and curricular experiences lead to improved learning.

Students will lead original research examining theoretical and applied questions about how educational technology can make teaching and learning easier and more effective for both students and teachers. WPI’s rigorous scientific and technical backdrop means you’ll have the knowledge behind learning and the tools to interpret and use the produced data to improve how students learn with individualized methods.

In addition to course work and dissertation work that leads to an area of expertise, doctoral students must demonstrate their competency in data analysis and written communication.

Research for PhD in Learning Sciences

Rigorous and applied research that impacts educational settings, particularly in K-12 STEM areas, is at the core of our Learning Sciences & Technologies program. Each of our distinct labs focuses on the bigger picture of understanding how kids learn and helping teachers implement those changes to improve learning in and out of the classroom.

Department research:

  • Using and analyzing student data from ASSISTments, an adaptive online tutoring system
  • Analyzing students' mathematical problem-solving strategies using the dynamic, gesture-based tool Graspable Math and eye-tracking technology
  • Examining the intersections between affect, motivation, and learning in MathSpring, an online tutoring system
  • Using educational data mining to understand student interactions within intelligent tutoring systems
  • Designing embodied technologies and exploring the role of embodied cognition in mathematics
  • Using machine learning and computer vision techniques to automatically measure student engagement from video

The educational technology industry needs the expertise a degree in learning sciences and technologies delivers, and the STEM-focused program at WPI offers expertise in varied areas such as intelligent tutoring, cognitive psychology, and artificial intelligence.

Graduate students in WPI’s well-funded learning sciences and technologies program work with real students and teachers in their classrooms to discover the nuances of real-world needs so they can tailor their research to help solve them.

Varied backgrounds are essential to this field—computer scientists, educators, and social scientists who are passionate about ensuring that educational practices keep pace with technological advances have an opportunity to immediately impact thousands of students with their research.

With a location in the regional hub of educational technology, WPI is in close proximity to more than 150 start-ups that aim to understand and improve the educational process with their technologies.

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Neil Heffernan
Neil Heffernan
Professor, Computer Science

Neil T. Heffernan enjoys doing educational data mining and running the ASSISTments system. ASSISTments helps schools teach better. It’s a web service hosted at WPI that allows teachers to assign nightly homework or daily class work. Students get instant feedback while teachers get live reports. Professor Heffernan enjoys supervising WPI students in creating ASSISTments content and features. He has  6 dozens paper in educational data mining, and 20+ papers in comparing different ways to optimize student learning.

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Erin Ottmar
Erin Ottmar
Associate Professor, Social Science & Policy Studies

Erin Ottmar is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Learning Sciences at WPI. She received her BA in psychology and elementary education from the University of Richmond. After college, she spent several years teaching in Ecuador and Japan. In 2011, she received her PhD in Educational Psychology: Applied Developmental Science from the University of Virginia. After graduate school, spent 3 years as a post-doctoral research scientist at the University of Richmond.

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Jacob Whitehill
Jacob Whitehill
Associate Professor, Computer Science

My research interests are in applied machine learning, computer vision, data science and their applications to education, affective computing, and human behavior recognition. My work is highly interdisciplinary and frequently intersects cognitive science, psychology, and education. Before joining WPI, I was a research scientist at the Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning at Harvard University. In 2012, I co-founded Emotient, a San Diego-based startup company for automatic emotion and facial expression recognition.

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Joseph Beck
Joseph Beck
Associate Professor, Computer Science

Joseph Beck, assistant professor of Computer Science, has been at WPI since 2007. His research focuses on educational data mining, a new discipline that develops techniques for analyzing large educational data sets to make discoveries that will improve teaching and learning. His work centers on estimating how computer tutors impact learning. He established the first workshop in the field and in 2008 was program co-chair of the first International Conference on Educational Data Mining.

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Earn a Master’s in Learning Sciences First

Ready to elevate your career in the educational technology industry, but need to earn your master’s first? Earn a master’s in learning sciences and technologies at WPI where you can collect data in real learning environments, implement groundbreaking advances, and make strides toward improving learning. Our program is well-funded and highly regarded, and we have relationships with schools around the world, which further supports our extensive research endeavors. Take classes full-time or part-time and work alongside our expert faculty in project-based teams.

Find the Right PhD Program for Your Career Goals

If a learning sciences PhD isn’t quite the right fit, WPI has other PhD programs that might align closer with your interests and goals. Our PhD in data science is one of the first programs of its kind in the nation and that pioneering approach gives you an advantage. You’ll collaborate closely with our expert faculty as you dive into complex research that will turn big data into meaningful patterns and informed results. If your interests and experience lean more toward the computer science field, WPI’s PhD in computer science will give you the expertise to become an industry leader or to move into a research and teaching path in academia. You’ll become part of a global team of computer scientists who solve real-world problems related to AI, data mining, robotics, and computer security, and other topics.