Learning Happens Everywhere
“Everything can be an educational moment or experience,” said Ming Yin, a senior researcher at Education Northwest. “Too often, the concept of education is limited to what happens within a school setting. I’m just as interested in learning experiences that happen outside that setting.”
Yin joined Education Northwest’s Applied Research & Equitable Evaluation program in fall 2022. A native of Shanghai, China, she came to the United States as an undergraduate and went on to earn her doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis. She currently lives in Houston, Texas.
These diverse experiences fueled her interest in social policy, education, and child development—the many factors, issues, contexts, and experiences that influence how and what we learn and who we become.
“I’m interested in how things interact,” said Yin. “There are so many factors that contribute to a child’s development and learning experiences, from socioeconomic status to immigration status to language status to the broader contexts of family, culture, community, and neighborhood.”
In her previous work at Rice University’s Houston Education Research Consortium, Yin participated in several large-scale studies that drove home the complexity of the learning experience and the research process itself.
As a researcher, I believe in the importance of all educational skills and contexts. I think we have to consider the whole person and the whole learning experience. That informs everything I do.
One study, conducted in collaboration with the Organization for Economic and Cooperation Development, involved a team of researchers from multiple countries and examined the social and emotional skills of 10- and 15-year-old students in 10 school sites around the world. The study was conducted as a collection of research-practice partnerships, and Yin collaborated with representatives from the Houston Independent School District (HISD), one of the 10 participating sites and also one of the most diverse school districts in the United States.
“That was a very challenging and rewarding experience,” said Yin. “There were 11 different research partners, so it took a tremendous amount of coordination to ensure we standardized the research process and collected the same kind of data from site to site, but I also worked directly with HISD to engage them in the process, find out what kind of information would be most useful to them, and then help them make sense of the findings and put them into practice.”
The study findings confirmed Yin’s belief in the importance of whole-child development and the need to reexamine how and where learning takes place. “It showed that soft skills are just as important as academic skills in determining a person’s ability to function and succeed in life,” Yin said. “And it showed that the development of those skills happens—and needs to happen—in multiple settings and in multiple ways.”
Yin’s work at Education Northwest is already drawing on her broad range of skills and experiences. From small projects such as the evaluation of a single school district’s math curriculum to large-scale projects such as the evaluation of a statewide STEM program, she brings a rigorous and collaborative approach that keeps the full, complex, diverse human experience front and center.
“As a researcher, I believe in the importance of all educational skills and contexts,” said Yin. “I think we have to consider the whole person and the whole learning experience. That informs everything I do.”