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Big Learning grew out of the work done by its founder, Dr. Karen Cole, whose career has focused on real-world, project-based learning. But our history really extends back to work done by Dr. Cole and founding board member Jennifer Knudsen at the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL), along with Dr. Shelley Goldman, Dr. Ray McDermott, and Dr. James Greeno of Stanford University in the late 1990s. This research led to innovative curriculum and far-reaching ideas about equity in education, design-based learning, and rigorous, engaging curriculum, and it continues to form the basis of all the work we do at Big Learning.

Since our founding in 2007, we have extended these ideas and applied them to questions including:
  • How can we help families support their children's intellectual development?
  • How can afterschool programs help to narrow the achievement gap?
  • What resources to afterschool staff need to support learning effectively?

Our work is based on ideas from classic education visionaries such as Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, John Dewey, and John Holt, and also on the most current research on learning, achievement, and equity.