University of Pittsburgh School of Education

Curriculum for Learning Sciences and Policy - Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Our goal for students in the Learning Sciences and Policy doctoral program is to learn how to conduct research at the intersection of learning and policy, and to effectively communicate with a wide variety of audiences including scholars, policymakers, funders, practitioners, and educational leadership. Students engage in a range of learning experiences to acquire these skills that include formal course taking, participating in research projects, practica/internships, and varied writing experiences.

Course Requirements

Doctoral students in the Learning Sciences and Policy program who enter the program without a master’s degree in a relevant field are required to take four (4) core courses, a minimum of six research methods courses, and twelve (12) advanced seminars/directed studies in an area of specialization. Students with a Masters degree in a related field can petition to have some credits transferred to toward the PhD.

Core Courses

The core courses provide students with a solid and shared knowledge base in the three core disciplines--learning sciences, policy studies, and content area studies). In these courses, students develop their ability to critically analyze research, policies, and other educational artifacts (including standards for instruction and learning, assessments, and curricula) from the perspective of these core disciplines, and develop students’ ability to communicate to different audiences for different purposes (e.g., the academic community, policymakers, educators, school leadership, etc.).

Research Methods Courses

The research methods courses provide students with a strong foundation in data analysis. Students are expected to take a minimum of three quantitative statistics courses (through HLM) in addition to other courses in qualitative methods and research design. Students learn how to design experimental and quasi-experimental studies, manage large datacbases, and perform hierarchically nested analyses. Students also are expected to master the qualitative skills necessary for careful, systematic studies of the processes and factors influencing the implementation of learning policies (e.g., interactions between teachers in professional learning settings, teachers and students in classrooms, etc.).

Advanced Seminars

Students take a minimum of twelve advanced seminars to develop expertise in a specific area aligned with the student’s research interest. Areas of specialization include (but certainly are not limited to) assessment, mathematics education, science education, language and literacy development, and organization and policy studies. Seminars also can be taken as independent Directed Studies under the supervision of a faculty member (with approval by the students’ advisory team).

Research Experience

Students participate as part of a faculty member’s research team throughout their time in the program. As part of that research team, students engage in every phase of the research process, apprenticing under the active mentoring of the faculty member. Additionally, doctoral students are expected complete at least two independent research projects under the supervision of the faculty. The first, a pre-dissertation project, may often rise out of the apprenticeship, as students carve out a unique piece of work from a larger ongoing project. Students also must complete an independent research project for their dissertation that focuses on the intersection of policy and learning. Students are encouraged for their dissertation to write two connected research articles with an introduction and a conclusion showing how the studies relate. Students are expected to graduate with three or more published (or nearly ready to be published) research articles.


Students are required to take two one-semester practica/internships, the purposes of which are to expose students to a range of kinds and forms of research and build students’ professional skills. Options for practicum include, but are not limited to, the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center, the Institute for Learning, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE), and the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Policy Center. Students also may participate in developing and/or teaching a class with a faculty member to develop their skills at teaching and designing courses.

Communicating with a Range of Audiences

A common thread across the core courses and research experiences is an emphasis on building students’ skills to communicate effectively with different audiences: researchers/scholars, funders, practitioners, and decision-makers. Students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in their communication skills in their courses (e.g., effective presentation skills, ability to write a policy brief, etc.), and in their Doctoral Comprehensive Exams where, in addition to a scholarly review, students will be expected to produce an application for funding, and a policy brief based on their scholarly review of an area of policy relevant to practitioners or decision-makers.

Requirement Classes Credits
A. Core Courses 4 12
- Learning Sciences (1)
- Education Policy (1)
- Organizational Perspectives on Educational Improvement (1)
- Design (1)
- First Year Seminar (EDUC 3102 and 3105)1 2 3
- Writing Seminar2 8 8
B. Research Methods 6 18
- Required coursework in year 1 includes Quantitative 1 (EDUC 3100) and 2 (EDUC 3103); Qualitative 1 (EDUC 3104) (3)  
C. Advanced Seminars/Directed Studies in Area of Specialization3 12 36
- Supervised Research (2)
D. Internship 2 6
E. Doctoral Dissertation Research 6 18
Total 90

1 First Year Seminar meets every other week, with 1 credit in fall and 2 credits in spring, taken over and above the typical 9-credits course load. These credits are above and beyond the 90 credits required for graduation.

2 Writing Seminar taken over and above the typical 9-credit course load beginning in the second year of study. These credits are above and beyond the 90 credits required for graduation.

3 This includes courses taken outside the School of Education.