A Word About Our Research

Out of Eden Learn is an initiative of Project Zero, a research center housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Despite its singular name, Project Zero is a collection of loosely linked research projects that investigate the richness of human learning across a range of settings, including schools, museums, community and organizational contexts, and online platforms.  All Project Zero initiatives are funded through grants or gifts. While its research projects vary in focus and methodology, a common thread across almost all Project Zero projects is that they aim to contribute directly to improving educational practice. They also tend to be collaborative and iterative, involving teachers, students, and other stakeholders in the research process.

The design of the Out of Eden Learn curriculum and online community are informed by decades of research on learning and thinking carried out at Project Zero. In addition to building on this history, Out of Eden Learn is itself a research project. The project has the good fortune—and the challenge—of having vast amounts of data on which to draw, including tens of thousands of pieces student work posted online and their related dialogue threads, thousands of student surveys, and hundreds of teacher and student interviews.  

We use our data in two broad ways.  Firstly, to improve the program and extend it in ways that are responsive to the needs and interests of students and teachers.  For example, in the early years of the program we noticed that students’ dialogue threads seemed thin, but when we verbally interviewed them, students reported a high level of curiosity about the work of their online peers that wasn’t showing up in their online conversations. We therefore developed a ‘dialogue toolkit’ to support thoughtful, curious online exchange, and we continue to investigate its effectiveness and potential for further development.

Secondly, we use our data to address questions that can inform education and human development more broadly, beyond—but often including—the specific goals of the Out of Eden Learn program. Questions of interest include:

  • How do young people think about culture: How do they recognize and describe their own cultural identities, and the cultural identities of others?
  • How can online interactions help young people to think about culture in more nuanced ways?
  • How do young people connect their own lives to bigger human stories unfolding across different times and places?
  • How can dialogue ‘moves,’ such as those in Out of Eden Learn’s Dialogue Toolkit, support and deepen thoughtful online interactions on other social media platforms and in-person interaction among youth? How can dialogue moves support and deepen teacher practice, beyond the Out of Eden Learn curriculum?
  • How does Out of Eden Learn provide educators working in contexts with limited resources an entryway into progressive education practices, and how can the program be leveraged to build connections among teachers across different contexts and cultures?
  • What do youth around the world find enjoyable about ‘slowing down to look and listen closely’--one of the 3 core goals of Out of Eden Learn--and in what ways do they perceive slowing down as an important counternarrative to their everyday lives?
  • What are the commonalities and differences in how youth around the world make maps of their neighborhoods?
  • What are the commonalities and differences in how youth around the world think about human migration?
  • How do youth build a shared sense of agency about environmental issues, across contexts and cultures? What are the commonalities and differences in their concerns about planetary health?  How do youth in different contexts and cultures see connections between planetary health and their own lives? 

The project has already conducted research related to several of the foregoing questions, and we hope to expand our research capacity in the coming years.  

Explore our Publications page for more information about our research.

Learn more about Project Zero on the Project Zero website.