Scientists, educators present research on all aspects of how we learn

January 14, 2016

Distinguished scientists and educators gathered at Johns Hopkins University this week to highlight cutting-edge research on human learning, from pioneering neuroscience to novel pedagogical approaches.

The biennial Science of Learning Symposium and the fourth annual Symposium on Excellence in Teaching and Learning in the Sciences drew more than 600 registrants for two days of in-depth lectures from leading experts.

Among the more compelling presentations across the two days were those about artificial intelligence and machine learning, talks suggesting that neurological research has applications not only in the health care sector but also in the world of technology.

Jason Eisner, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins and CLSP affiliate, explored how artificial intelligence can aid human learning of a foreign language. Computers can produce what is called Macaronic text, an amalgam of two languages in a single sentence that can be adjusted to fit the reader’s language skill. For example, the French phrase “nous aurons besoin des gateaux” gradually breaks apart to become “we need-erons les gateaux.” For a beginner, it can be entirely translated to “we will need the cakes.” Programs like Google Translate can produce Macaronic text.

Rather than building a program as an “adult”—by writing into its code everything an adult would know—Eisner argued that it is better to build the software to be alearner. Smart software grows and adapts as it accumulates experiences—predictive text on a smartphone, for example. This type of computing requires close collaboration with neuroscientists and a thorough understanding of the way the brain processes information.


The events were co-sponsored by the Science of Learning Institute and the Gateway Sciences Initiative, a multidimensional program to improve and enrich learning of gateway sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

Excerpted from The Hub.

Center for Language and Speech Processing