Evidence in educational research

On “Classroom Research and Cargo Cults“:

After many years of educational research, it is disconcerting that we have little dependable research guidance for school policy. We have useful statistics in the form of test scores…. But we do not have causal analyses of these data that could reliably lead to significant improvement.

This offers powerful reading for anyone with an interest in education. Hirsch starts off a bit controversial, but he moves toward principles upon which we can all converge: Evidence matters, AND theoretical description of causal mechanism matters.

The challenge of completing the analogy between educational research and medical research (i.e., finding the education-research analogue to the germ theory of disease) is in developing precise assessment of knowledge. The prior knowledge that is so important in influencing how people learn does not map directly onto a particular location or even pattern of connectivity in the brain. There is no neural “germ” or “molecule” that represents some element of knowledge.

Other tidbits:

  1. Intention to learn may sometimes be a condition for learning, but it is not a necessary or sufficient condition.
  2. Neisser’s law:

    You can get a good deal from rehearsal
    If it just has the proper dispersal.
    You would just be an ass
    To do it en masse:
    Your remembering would turn out much worsal.

  3. I wouldn’t characterize the chick-sexing experiments as the triumph of explicit over implicit learning, but rather, that of carefully structured over wholly naturalistic environments. One can implicitly learn quite effectively from the presentation of examples across boundaries, from prototypes and attractors, and from extremes.
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