Adam Black

Learning science, insights, and the journey to better outcomes

Blog Post created by Adam Black on Jun 28, 2017

I come from a family of instructors. I believe there are few richer ways to contribute to the world than to help students to achieve their potential.


I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had a career that’s taken me all around the US, and all over the world - to meet all kinds of students and to witness passionate instructors, novel instructional techniques, and effective educational technologies in action. I’m always inspired by what I learn, and continually energized to create better ways to help students and instructors to succeed.


I’ve developed digital learning products for many years. At last count, they’ve been used by more than 25 million learners. That’s both thrilling and a humbling responsibility. Yet looking forward, I think we’re entering into a particularly exciting chapter in digital education. Here’s what we’re employing at Macmillan Learning and why I’m so excited by what we can contribute to learners and learning:


  • Digital technologies are finally sufficiently flexible and ubiquitous that we can develop learning products that really are personal and connected.


  • Design thinking has revolutionized how to co-create with students and instructors education solutions that solve fundamental challenges with compelling and intuitive experiences.


  • Learning Science is an evolving field, but much is well understood about how to apply it to design effective and impactful learning experiences. Blended with User Experience Design, we can now engineer better learning into digital products.


  • Agile development (from software, to content, and beyond) allows iterative, continuous improvement which is critical in turning a good learning experience into a great one.


  • Implementation science is emerging as a means to research how different instructors in different situations can achieve different results with the same learning tools, and to use these insights to help more of their peers to get better results.


  • Engineering digital products to capture specific interaction data is revealing entirely new, empirical insights into how students behave and learn. Combined with contextual “small data” from on-the-ground observations, we can now research at the local and national level - from how effective a product is in improving learner outcomes and how it can be refined, to how instructors can be guided to get the very best results for their students.


With this innovation toolkit to hand, it’s been a lot of fun to build an entirely new Learning Science and Insights team from the ground up at Macmillan Learning. We certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but we do believe that the blend of learning science (what works), user-centered design (empathy and understanding), and insights from big and small data (empirical trends and local context) are helping us to design a next-generation of learning products that will help more learners to reach their goals.


We are energized by the opportunity to help learners and instructors to succeed, and humbled by the responsibility. We’ll be regularly sharing our approach, findings, successes and failures. We hope you’ll accompany us along our journey and contribute to it.