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M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development | Context - Context
Online Master of Learning, Cognition, and Development
M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development In Context

Master of Education in Learning, Cognition, and Development programs prepare graduates to begin or advance careers as educators, leaders, and administrators. It can also be a step toward earning a doctorate degree. It helps teachers expand their knowledge of cognitive theories to crack the code of how their students think, learn and develop in school settings.

With a 6% projected increase in the number of elementary through high school teachers, special education teachers, and education administration professional jobs available between 2014 and 2024, it’s also a promising time to enter the field. [1] For those seeking to move into leadership roles or advance their earnings, having a master’s in education can lead to an increase in teaching wages by up to 33%. [2]

How do I earn an M.Ed.?

Most M.Ed. programs require applicants to have completed an undergraduate degree in any discipline to enroll in an M.Ed. program, but they may also ask for transcripts, a personal statement, and your resume. Many schools offer on-campus and online degrees.

What is learning, cognition, and development?

Learning, cognition, and development is a field focused on helping students overcome education challenges. It’s the study of how humans think, learn, and grow, and it’s a core component of a wide range of educational occupations and applied education doctoral programs.

It’s also a specialization that attracts teachers seeking to develop advanced skills in areas such as teaching English as a second language or special education.

This is key, because there is growing demand for special education expertise. From 2013 to 2014, 6.5 million youths aged between 3 and 21 received special education services in the United States — that’s around 13% of all public school students. [3]

Degrees in learning, cognition, and development

Degree programs in learning, cognition, and development are often multi-disciplinary, drawing on other subjects such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology to give students a well-balanced understanding of the field. Although many master’s programs do not require applicants to be licensed, practicing teachers, M.Ed. programs are likely to appeal to education professionals due to their focus on practical applications for cognitive theory. Recently it was reported that 41% of education professionals have a master’s degree, suggesting that earning an M.Ed. can help you stand out as an educator. [4]

Although there are select similar programs at lower levels of study, such as the Bachelor of Science in Child Learning and Development or Bachelor of Education in Special Education, there are few degrees with a specific focus on learning, cognition, and development at the associate or bachelor’s level. Most practicing teachers will have undertaken courses in child development and psychology as part of their initial studies. [5]

Common professional settings for M.Ed. graduates

Having a master’s degree in learning, cognition, and development can help you work in: [6]

  • Research
  • Academia and higher education
  • Schools and school districts
  • Education foundations
  • Government agencies
  • Special education services
Who might pursue this degree?

Learning, cognition, and development programs are intended to meet the academic needs of students wishing to further their understanding of the psychology of human learning in an educational context. There are three main audiences that programs of this nature could appeal to: [7]

  • Current educational practitioners (teachers, educational leaders, and policymakers) who want to enrich their theoretical understanding to improve their students’ learning outcomes
  • Those looking to access further study at doctoral level or engage in research activity
  • Anyone interested in leadership roles in education, government, or related fields such as marketing, child psychology, and advertising

The three most common occupations for learning sciences graduates are elementary and middle school teachers, secondary school teachers, and education administrators. Compared to other education degrees, there was a higher proportion of graduates working as special education teachers, and preschool and kindergarten teachers. [6]

Things to consider when choosing a master’s program

Asynchronous or synchronous

There are two main options when it comes to how online programs are delivered: asynchronously or synchronously. The most common type is asynchronous, where students can study at their own pace, completing coursework when it fits around work or personal commitments. Synchronous programs involve students logging in for live classes or webinars at set times. There are also blended programs that offer a hybrid of both these methods. If you’re considering an online learning, cognition, and development master’s degree, be sure to check that the delivery method will work for you.

Cohort or non-cohort

Your cohort is a group of students that you enroll with and then share classes with for the entirety of your program. As most learning, cognition, and development master’s are multidisciplinary, with electives and opportunities for specialization, most programs are non-cohort. This means you’ll mingle with other groups of students depending on your chosen path of study and specific classes. Cohort and non-cohort programs will appeal to different types of students, so be sure you choose a program that reflects how you’d like to study.

Experiential learning

As master’s degrees in learning, cognition, and development are strongly theoretical, most do not offer a practical learning element (such as classroom teaching experience). Some programs, however, do offer hands-on experience of research methods through research projects in tandem with faculty.

M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development Career Advancement

According to nationwide statistics, the three most common occupations for graduates of learning sciences degrees (which includes those from learning, cognition, and development programs) in 2015 were:

  • Elementary and middle school teachers
  • Secondary school teachers
  • Education administrators
  • Instructional coordinator
  • School principal [8]

Compared to other education degrees, there was also a significant proportion of graduates working in special education (around 121,000). [6]
Elementary school teachers have a median salary of $54,550 a year, with a projected growth in the number of jobs of around 6% from 2014 to 2024, near the national average. [6] An enhanced knowledge of development and learning can benefit teachers in this setting, as they are responsible for ensuring children are able to communicate and pick up basic math, science, reading, and social studies. [14] It’s also worth noting that certain states might require elementary school teachers to earn a master’s degree after gaining teaching certification — and a degree in learning, cognition, and development could satisfy that requirement. [1]

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), high school teachers earned $57,200 on average in 2015, with employment expected to grow by 6% from 2014 to 2024. In many schools, students are divided into classes based on their abilities, with teachers altering their teaching methods to fit the diverse needs of each group of students. With students with learning disabilities and emotional or behavioral disorders also included in standard classes, there’s a need for teachers to be able to understand learning, cognition, and development to be able to adapt their teaching strategies to their students’ developmental needs. [1]

Education administrators include a wide number of professionals who support teaching staff to achieve the best learning outcomes for students. One of these is the instructional coordinator — a role that oversees school curriculums and teaching standards and garnered average annual earnings of $62,460 in 2016. These educators often take the lead on implementing standardized improvements across a school or school district, using teaching observations and analysis of student test data to draw conclusions that seek to improve learning outcomes. [5] This role could benefit from an enhanced knowledge of how students learn, think, and develop. It also usually requires applicants to hold a Master of Education degree. [9]

Salaries for learning, cognition, and development graduates

Salaries are subject to many different variables, including variances in state funding, the demand for teachers in a school district, and work setting, particularly for teachers choosing between public and private schools. The average national salaries for the three most common occupations for learning, cognition, and development graduates are similar.

The median salary for elementary school teachers is $54,550, followed by $57,200 for high school teachers, and $75,375 for education administrators (which includes leadership positions, including curriculum directors).] Earning a master’s degree can position you pursue higher wages, with top 10% of elementary school teachers earning more than $81,121; high school teachers earning more than $92,920; and education administrators earning more than $135,770. [9] [10]

About 41% of education professionals hold a master’s degree. The 75th percentile of bachelor’s graduate teachers earned a median $55,000 in 2011, compared to $73,150 for master’s graduates. [11]

Potential career paths

The majority of learning, cognition, and development master’s degree programs are designed to enrich the knowledge of existing educators, empowering them to shape their teaching strategies around the theories related to their students’ learning, thinking, and developing. Learning, cognition, and development programs are primarily for: [1]

  • Teachers who already hold certification and want to enrich their knowledge of development to improve learning outcomes for their students
  • Teachers who want to enter a specialized field or leadership role, which might include policymaking, teaching leadership, assessment, and special education
  • Educators who wish to enter roles in industry with a focus on how the mind works — including marketing, advertising, and cognitive science
  • Those looking for a stepping stone to studying at doctoral level, including those interested in undertaking research in the field
M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development Curriculum

Since the American education system has no national curriculum, there’s huge variation in the quality and content of teaching across the country. When combined with the varied needs of today’s learners — including those with special educational needs — that creates a disparity in learning outcomes for students. [12]

That’s where a master’s in learning, cognition, and development comes in. Enriching the practical knowledge of current teaching professionals, as well as enabling movement into educational leadership, research, and academic roles, programs are built to provide a strong theoretical bedrock to the field. Some programs also allow you to specialize in one or more areas of focus, often drawing on other programs in the school as part of a multidisciplinary approach.

What should I look for in a curriculum?

A good place to begin is with the school’s reputation and the quality of its teaching. Then look into the specifics of the courses available in each program. It can help to keep the following criteria in mind when comparing programs:

  • The availability and subject of specializations
  • Academic infrastructure, including facilities
  • Faculty experience and current research activity
  • Depth of coursework
  • Alignment of program objectives with your professional goals
What are the overall learning goals?

As M.Ed. curriculum varies from school to school. Based on an analysis of outcomes listed by several programs, students should be able to demonstrate the following by the end of a degree in the subject:

  • Master psychological theories to understand learning, cognition, and development
  • Appropriately apply those theories to educational contexts
  • Critically evaluate empirical evidence and use a variety of research methods
  • Confidently write and talk about issues in educational psychology
  • Collaborate effectively and form strong teaching partnerships to implement changes
  • Introduce innovation to the classroom to enhance learning outcomes
  • Become a leader of educated debate regarding curriculum development
Standard coursework

Standard coursework refers to the core classes that make up most of a master’s program in learning, cognition, and development. They usually provide a strong theoretical foundation, which is then built on with elective courses and specialization tracks. Electives are courses you can choose to fit your interests or career path. Specialization tracks allow you to tailor your study to focus on one or two particular areas, allowing you to supplement your knowledge and demonstrate specialized academic experience to potential employers.

Here are some common course topics based on an analysis of more than 20 programs:

  • Theories of learning and development
  • Theories and research of human development
  • Social cognition
  • Developmental perspectives
  • Research methods
  • Statistics and analysis
  • Child psychology
  • Motivation

Your choice of electives varies from school to school, depending on the research interests of faculty, as well as the breadth of the university’s opportunities for studying multidisciplinary subjects. Having a broad understanding across different fields of study may benefit you after graduation, showing your depth of interest in wider subjects. If you’re looking at online programs, it’s worth noting that some electives otherwise available to on-campus students may not be available online.

Common electives

Most learning, cognition, and development master’s degree programs enable students to choose from a list of optional electives, usually after studying the initial core courses that give you a theoretical backdrop. Electives allow you to tailor your degree by studying courses in subjects where you have a special interest or want to explore.

From an analysis of more than 20 programs, some of the available electives might include:

  • Cooperative and collaborative learning
  • Classroom motivation
  • Cognition and memory
  • Cognition and language acquisition
  • Cognitive development
  • Cognitive and motivational learning strategies
  • Cognition and language from birth/infancy in early childhood
  • Memory systems and processes
  • The role of family and community in child development
  • Adolescence
  • Adult learning and development
  • Race and ethnicity studies
  • The multicultural family
  • Immigrant children
  • Teaching psychology
Assessment methods and culmination of program
The assessment methods used in learning, cognition, and development degree programs vary from school to school, but commonly include:

This can take the form of a literature review or position paper, exploring an area of interest in greater detail, normally in consultation with a faculty member. As you’re able to tailor your capstone to your particular interests and needs, it can help to further prepare you to enter a specialization or field of expertise after graduation.

This can be a quantitative, qualitative, or evaluative project that will close the gap between theories you’ve learned in the program and practical experience, contributing to the field.

Usually in tandem with either a research project or a capstone, students may be asked to give a formal presentation on their findings and answer questions from an assessment panel.

What should I look for when choosing a program with an internship?
If an internship element is something that appeals to you, you should balance carefully the availability of opportunities with the support your chosen school can provide. Consider:

In the few programs that do offer practical, hands-on research experience, the number of credits assigned can vary widely.

Some schools will allow postgraduate students to participate in current research, helping to embed the strong research and statistics learning gained in most learning, cognition, and development programs.

Where do the leaders in your chosen specialty teach? If you have a particular area of interest, it’s worth checking whether your chosen schools are conducting research in that field.

M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development Program Length

The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.

Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.

You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.

M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development Admissions Requirements

While each program will set its admissions requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.

In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.

For more information about admissions, please visit our< a href=”#”> admissions requirements page.

Alternative Degrees/Fields of Study

Undertaking your master’s degree is a big commitment, both academically and financially. It’s important to do your research to make sure your educational plan is a good match for your desired outcome.
The following master’s degrees touch on the same topics and learning outcomes as the M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development, but they offer a different focus or specialization. As you do your research, consider learning more about these degrees to see whether they might be a better fit for your goals and interests.
For instance: [1]

  • An elementary or kindergarten teacher with an interest in childhood development could consider an M.Ed. in Early Childhood/Elementary Education
  • A prospective elementary school teacher who’s also looking for a route into teaching certification could undertake an M.Ed. in Elementary Education (with teacher certification)
  • An education professional or prospective educational researcher with an interest in statistical modeling might consider M.Ed. programs in Educational Statistics, Measurement, and Evaluation
  • Those interested in special education as a specialized career could also be well-served by M.Ed. programs in Special Education or Learning and Cognition
  • There’s also a range of more specialized degrees aimed at subject teachers in high schools, often incorporating courses that could be undertaken in a learning, cognition, and development program

Most learning, cognition, and development programs draw from different academic disciplines to provide a multidisciplinary approach, where you can choose to study a range of other related subjects. The aim of many degrees is to provide a strong theoretical background, founded in the study of how the brain learns, thinks, and develops through education. That’s why it can suit both those who are already educators looking to strengthen student outcomes and those interested in academic research or further study.

M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development Accreditation

Learning, cognition, and development master’s degrees aren’t nationally accredited. As there’s no unified set of standards that programs must adhere to, the content and nature of each degree will vary from school to school.

Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.

Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.

You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.

M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development Licensure and Certifications

Master’s degrees in learning, cognition, and development are designed to appeal primarily to current teaching professionals, or those who have just completed a bachelor’s and are looking to further develop their education as the next step toward studying at doctoral level. As a result, most learning, cognition, and development master’s programs do not include preparation for state teaching licensure or any form of certification.

The History of Learning, Cognition, and Development

Teachers have had the same questions for centuries: what’s important to know? Who should be taught, and how? The search for answers to these lies in the field of learning, cognition, and development that has its academic roots in the early education systems proposed by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. Around 2,500 years ago, the Chinese philosopher Confucius was one of the first to suggest an educational system with differentiated instruction, saying, “Teach according to the student’s ability.” [13]

Despite the existence of formal education since around 3000 BC, the idea that brain functions can be manipulated to improve the teaching and learning experience is relatively new. [14] In 1693, John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education linked human development to developmental psychology. Locke thought students could think better if they could list their own mental steps in solving a problem — the cornerstone of contemporary critical thinking. [15]

Only a few hundred years ago literacy was reserved for the few; it’s now the norm that students from all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds should attend school. As the educational system has broadened, so too should educators’ understanding of the variety of potential learners in a classroom, backed up by new discoveries in neuroscience. [14]

By studying learning theories at an advanced level with a practical emphasis on their role in educating children, educators will be able to enrich their own teaching skills to improve their students’ learning outcomes. Studying the field in depth with a focus on psychological theories can also open doors to further study at doctoral level. And, for those interested in leadership positions in education, government, or related fields (that may include advertising, marketing, and industrial applications for cognitive science), studying learning, cognition, and development can open up your career options. [15]

M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development Tuition and Fees

There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships.

For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

An M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development is for students wishing to study the psychology and development of adolescents as it applies to learning and growth in the classroom. In addition to helping teach students the competencies required to succeed as educators, coursework will focus on how humans learn and think.

The M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition, and Development degree is primarily intended for those currently working in the education field as it provides a theoretical background for the education professional on adolescent learning and development. It is also ideal for those wishing to continue on to Ph.D.-level studies. [16]

There are several reasons that teachers pursue their M.Ed. Teachers with an M.Ed. can establish themselves as highly qualified experts in their field, and they can use the degree as an opportunity to expand their knowledge of teaching and advanced coursework in teaching. [17]

Many see the M.Ed. as an avenue through which to raise their salary. According to a recent study by the Council of State Governments, M.Ed. graduates can earn up to 10% more than their counterparts who only have their bachelor’s degrees. [18]

Yes. The largest provider of student financial aid in the nation is the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Office. It supplies college-level or career school students with loans, grants, and work-study funds. You can apply for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

There are numerous other scholarships available, but you will need to research which opportunities you’re qualified to pursue. Many states, associations, websites, and businesses award scholarships based on specific criteria. Be sure to do your research and apply for any scholarships for which you qualify. [20]

No. However, M.Ed. programs are primarily geared towards those that are currently working in the field of education or those that wish to pursue Ph.D.-level studies. [16]

Whether you will need to complete the GRE prior to applying for a program will largely depend on what school you have chosen. There are many programs that do not require a GRE. Check the admissions requirements for your school before applying.

Key factors that may influence your decision on which M.Ed. program to choose include:

  • Accreditation: Is the program accredited?
  • Flexibility: Is the program on campus or delivered online? If online, does the institution require synchronous sessions? Are there optional asynchronous sessions?
  • Student support: What support systems are in place for your success?
  • Travel requirements: Will you need to pay for additional travel arrangements to meet degree requirements?
  • Interactive learning: What type of learning management system is used?
  • Faculty expertise: Do faculty have a strong theoretical and practical knowledge base in the field?
  • Fees: Are there any additional fees besides tuition?

Core courses will vary by institution, but they will generally focus on competencies required to be an effective educator, as well as those that can help you understand cognition. These programs are multidisciplinary and include coursework in teaching theory, psychology, biology, neuroscience, statistics and human development. List and describe course titles that you may find in your research.

Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students who may be working around a busy work schedule or home life. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees. The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and class itself. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets.

Online and on-campus degrees typically look identical. Most institutions do not indicate on the degree that it was earned online.

Yes, schools typically follow the same curriculum for their online programs as they do for their campus-based programs.

No, attaining management/senior positions is not guaranteed through the completion of a master’s degree. These positions often require many years of experience and a significant level of career achievement. However, an advanced degree can help you develop the necessary knowledge and skills required for these positions and also prove your dedication to the field.

NCATE is the national accrediting body for educational programs recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Attending an accredited institution ensures that the program has met rigorous quality standards and students are prepared to enter the education field. [19]

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has identified four key goals for accrediting and developing standards for accreditation. [20]

  • To help students develop the knowledge, skills, and demeanor that can enable them to thrive in their careers as educators
  • To provide accurate, rigorous, and fair assessment of educational degree programs
  • To offer advice or assistance for the improvement of educational degree programs
  • To communicate and coordinate with academic programs, students, the public, and others whose interests align with the improvement of educator preparation and quality

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is the national accrediting body for educational programs recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Attending an accredited institution ensures that the program has met rigorous quality standards and students are prepared to enter the education field.

The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses.

Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students. [22]

Every school has a department or team responsible for online education. This department will be able to answer questions regarding compliance for your home state. Additionally, you can locate the school through SARA (if it is a SARA institution) to confirm compliance.


[7] Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2010). The new science of teaching
and learning: Using the best of mind, brain, and education science in the
classroom. New York: Columbia University Teachers College Press.
[13] Chin, A. (2007). The authentic Confucius: A life of thought and politics. New York: Scribner.
[15] Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2010). Mind, Brain, and Education Science: The new brain-based learning. New York, NY: W.W: Norton.