Research and Practice

FINAL THOUGHTS: LIMITATIONS OF RESEARCH

“The scope of what researchers can accomplish is limited in many ways…. Though ideally researchers would assess the learning and cognition of a representative sample of people, meaning one that best captures the breadth and diversity of humanity, in practice this is hardly ever the case. Furthermore, most if not all brain and cognitive researchers conduct their analyses in laboratory settings, where as many variables are identified and controlled as possible. Compared to the control of a laboratory, a classroom is filthy with variables of many types.

Why should the distinction between the control of variables and other factors in laboratories and classrooms matter? Put simply, it matters because ‘evidence-based’ is often mistakenly interpreted as meaning the same thing as ‘field-tested.’ To say that a particular teaching strategy or curricular initiative is ‘evidence-based’ can indicate many things. It certainly may mean, as most assume, that the phenomenon has been studied in classroom settings by educational researchers and teachers and has been found to work. And it this latter situation is the case, great! However, more often than not this label means that a particular educational strategy or initiative is based on evidence that has emerged from research studies conducted in laboratories, or it is based in evidence.

There is certainly nothing wrong with this other definition and I also do not believe that it is intentionally used to deceive. Indeed, many of the strategies proposed in this text represent exactly this type of research-based practice, namely those that have yet to be tested in classroom settings. However, any time you come across something that is research-based rather than research-validated (or field-tested), remember that the minimum threshold for this label is that the strategy is based on a review of the existing literature. Thus it is ‘field-tested’ or ‘research-validated’ and not ‘evidence-based” that should be seen as the educational equivalent of the ‘Good Housekeeping’ stamp of approval.”

Excerpted from: Rekart, Jerome L. The Cognitive Classroom: Using Brain and Cognitive Science to Optimize Student Success. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2013.

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