October 30th, 2008

Research-Based Practice


I’m in the middle of a new book on learner-centered teaching, Helping Students Learn in a Learner-Centered Environment, by Terry Doyle. The book offers lots of good advice on overcoming student resistance to learner-centered approaches, those that make students more responsible for their own learning. One suggestion (that comes off more like a theme, at least so far in the book) is that we share with students the research that justifies the approach. There is much evidence coming out of recent brain research (Doyle, by the way, does a really good job of explaining some of this very complicated work) that explains why this approach results in more and better learning for students.

I think that’s a good suggestion, but in light of the blog earlier this week, I think we also need to hold each other accountable for the research that supports certain pedagogical approaches over others. Doyle makes this point in his book as well: faculty live in evidence-based environments. What field doesn’t look at, use, and move forward based on what research in that field has discovered and then established?

I was stunned when a faculty member asked me recently: “What do you think about active learning? I don’t really think there’s much to it.” “Not much to it?” I replied. “Have you looked at the research?” “No, I don’t have time, and I can’t say I put much stock in education research.”

In retrospect, I was way too polite and not nearly pointed enough in declaring the preposterousness of that position. The weight of the evidence on the side of active learning leaves little room for debate and still more is accumulating! Obviously, this doesn’t mean that lecture must be forever and always abandoned, but it does make a pedagogical practice that relies exclusively, even mostly on lecture unjustified.

Don’t we have an ethical responsibility to base our instructional practices on what we know about how people learn? Don’t we have a moral obligation to object when others (many of whom have never looked at the evidence) deny the validity of research-based findings?

—Maryellen Weimer