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Research in education

Published: Feb 14, 2020 3 min read

STEM learning

I recently had the opportunity to work with Paul Howard Jones (Professor of Neuroscience and Education, University of Bristol) and Tim Jay (Professor of Psychology of Education at Sheffield Institute of Education) to develop an online course about the science of learning. 

As we worked with the researchers, one key message from Paul and Tim seemed to crop up again and again: the research can’t tell teachers what method to use in the classroom, because what works for one teacher in one context doesn’t necessarily work for another. As Paul summarised in a recent Q&A recording: “What the science of learning can do, is help provide insight into why something should work, and then if it doesn’t work consider why it doesn’t work”.

A similar message comes from educator and Lead UK Researcher on Assessment for Learning, Chris Harrison, who explained: “Teachers need time to interpret and decide collectively what and how research evidence and ideas might inform their practice, and should be cautious of adopting teaching strategies without evaluating whether they are appropriate in specific contexts in their own classroom”.

As teachers, we read about and come across research from many different channels, including: media articles, blogs, intervention programmes, training in school or through course providers. Although engaging with research can support choices that we make in teaching, it is important to critically evaluate the strength of the research and its relevance to a classroom setting.

“Research can only tell us what has worked in a particular situation, not what will work in any future situation.” Gert Biesta, Professor of Education at Brunel University (2007)

Some useful questions to consider when looking at research evidence:

  • how many people did the study look at?
  • who made up the sample audience (eg children or adults)?
  • in what context did the research take place, and is this comparable to your context?
  • did the study take place in a controlled laboratory setting or in a real classroom?
  • what do other researchers say about it?
  • how old is the study? If the research is very recent, there may not have been time for other researchers to replicate the findings or to evaluate it.

The Institute of Effective Education (York) has produced a great guide, which highlights the limitations of different sources of information, so that you can look for evidence that is appropriate, and begin to weigh up the value of the research you find.

Karen Hornby is a science specialist at STEM Learning.

This article is taken from STEM Learning Secondary magazine.

Useful links    

Engaging with evidence guide

Online CPD Science of learning

Online CPD Planning for learning: formative assessment