Human Development Lab

@ Carnegie Mellon University


Update: Please note that the lab director Dr. Matthew Kam has left Carnegie Mellon University in August 2012 to change the world. This website has not been updated since August 2012. To reach him, please see his personal website:

The Human Development Lab is a research, educational and incubation unit housed in Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, a world leader in the design and evaluation of computing technologies in support of human activity and society.

At the practical level, we engage in participatory design with stakeholders in underserved communities to design, implement and deploy appropriate learning technologies that promote critical skills essential for economic empowerment in the 21st century. These skills include reading literacy, second language, math, healthcare and adult vocational skills. We combine design thinking with core engineering to develop learning solutions on pervasive, low-cost, and yet also extremely technically challenging platforms like the cellphone* and $10 TV-Computer. We have worked in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which are two regions that rank lowest on most indices of human development.

Rural children from India displaying “You Win!” screens from two of our literacy learning games. Success in these games, and mastery of the technology, was a considerable incentive and source of pride for these children. These kinds of displays were repeated over and over

At the intellectual level, much of existing education research is based on learners with formal schooling. Yet, schooling and other sociocultural practices -- including those inherited from Western postindustrial societies -- have profound influences on how individuals deploy their cognitive resources. With 69 million children worldwide out-of-school and 759 million adults globally lacking formal education, the imperative is to develop a body of scientific knowledge that can guide us in designing more effective educational interventions to empower learners with limited schooling.

We apply the latest -- and often under-specified -- learning theories to design innovative curricula and technology-enhanced learning environments. Through our field studies, we refine existing conceptual frameworks and contribute towards knowledge that informs learning interventions for underserved learner populations. Our ultimate vision is a more globally complete understanding of learning, literacy, cognition and design that upholds human development in both the developing and industrialized world. 

Our work has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed publications in prestigious academic venues. It has also been featured in the international media, including an ABC News television broadcast and a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television documentary.

To learn more about what's unique in our approach, we invite you to read more about us.


Recent Activities

Talk @ World Bank
June 12, 2012 - Washington, D.C.

Paper on speech recognition for improving word reading scores @ ACM CHI conference
May 5-10, 2012 - Austin, Texas

Cited in GSM Association's mWomen program's report
Mar 2012

Conference keynote @ 4th IEEE International Conference on Digital Game and Intelligent Toy Enhanced Learning (DIGITEL)
Mar 27-30, 2012 - Takamatsu, Japan

Named a 2012 Computerworld Honors Program Laureate
Mar 15, 2012 - CMU press release

Featured in The Guardian
Mar 13, 2012 - United Kingdom

Featured in World Economic Forum report
Feb 2012

Featured in book commissioned by Qatar Foundation for World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE)
Nov 2, 2011 - Doha, Qatar

Talk @ Virginia Tech
Oct 27, 2011 - Blacksburg, Virginia

Featured @ Clinton Global Initiative
Sep 19-22, 2011 - New York City

Featured @ World Economic Forum's session on "Closing the Education Gap"
Sep 16, 2011 - Dalian, China

Panel presentation @ USAID symposium on "Mobiles for Education for Developing Countries"
Aug 18, 2011 - Bethesda, Maryland

Our summer interns from India have their work featured in the press in Ahmedabad Mirror
Aug 2, 2011 - Ahmedabad, India

Commenced pilot of cellphone-based English literacy learning games with 250 children
Jul 29, 2011 - Hyderabad, India

Paper on technology for gender empowerment in developing world @ ACM CHI conference
May 7-12, 2011 - Vancouver, Canada

Panel presentation @ "M is for Mobile" workshop organized by Sesame Workshop India
Feb 28-Mar 2, 2011 - Delhi, India

Guest lecture @ Stanford University's School of Education
Feb 24, 2011 - Palo Alto, California

Guest lecture @ University of Pittsburgh's course on "Principles of Global Health Informatics"
Feb 9, 2011 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

> read all news

* According to the GSM Association and International Telecommunications Union respectively, mobile phone subscriptions are expected to exceed 5 billion around the world by 2011, with over two-thirds of these subscriptions coming from the developing world.