Cognitive Science Research Can Improve Undergraduate STEM Instruction: What Are the Barriers?

Charles Henderson, José P. Mestre, Linda L. Slakey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the directions needed to facilitate widespread adoption of the findings of cognitive science (CS) into undergraduate instruction in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The emerging research tradition of STEM discipline-based education research (DBER) is introduced briefly, with a focus on physics education research (PER). Examples of cognitive science research that are beginning to affect classroom practice are introduced, as well as examples that have direct implications for improving STEM instructional practices, yet remain largely unknown in the STEM community. Two barriers slow the implementation of CS findings in undergraduate STEM instruction. The first is lack of communication between cognitive science and STEM DBER researchers. The second is that, even when strong curricula and instructional practices are developed, there are many structural obstacles that make it difficult for STEM instructors to implement new instructional strategies. We provide an overview of current efforts to overcome these structural obstacles, and suggest policy implications for the cognitive science and DBER research communities that could facilitate the development, evaluation, and adoption of research-based instructional strategies in STEM undergraduate education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-60
Number of pages10
JournalPolicy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • STEM undergraduate instruction
  • cognitive science
  • discipline-based education research
  • physics education research
  • research-based instructional strategies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Public Administration


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