Just coming back from both the main annual American Education Research Association (AERA) meeting in Vancouver and from the Education Innovation Summit in Scottsdale Arizona (EIS). Curiously, the two meetings were scheduled to overlap, which reflects, perhaps, how little the world of learning research (as exemplified in AERA) and education technology investment (as exemplified in EIS) overlap. Yet there’s much to gain from both these worlds – and perhaps even more to gain by a conscious juxtaposition.
- “Global Perspectives on New Technologies and Learning”
- “Bridging Research and Practice: From Cognitive Principles to Design Principles of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment”
- “Digital Video Game Play in Children’s Learning and Cognitive Development”
- “Exploring the Frontiers and Linking Critical Aspects of Assessments in Science.”
- “Lesson Study Supported by Mathematical Resources: A Theoretical Framework, Randomized Trial, and Implications for Reform”
- “Longitudinal Data Systems and Tracking Academic and Nonacademic Outcomes”
- “Issues in the Facilitation of Video-Based Professional Development”
- “Making Difficult Decisions with Data: Does It Improve Student Learning?”
- “Exploring Online Discussions”
And these were just the interesting (to me) sessions from 10:35 to 12:05 on the Sunday morning!
I attended the “Bridging Research” panel. It discussed progress on applying a set of learning science principles to a very popular math curriculum, CMP, originally funded by NSF a decade or more ago, and already used in thousands of schools, but not aligned with learning science in its original form (yes, this sort of thing keeps happening). The goal is to rework three years of curriculum, then test in a controlled trial against the original curriculum, which in several randomized controlled trial studies has not shown any major benefit over “standard” classroom approaches. Important work to try at scale – wish it had been done when the original program was published “back in the day” to great fanfare. (And telling that applying learning science to the development of a large scale curriculum program is considered research/innovation in education. Not that we’re bitter.)
Mind you the 9 topics I found interesting about learning science, technology, measurement and student success were among the 100 or so sessions all taking place simultaneously – clearly an overwhelming cornucopia, but with gems spaced out for those willing to dig a little. It’s perhaps no wonder that folks without the patience or background to scan through the phonebook would find this a daunting place to hunt. (Plus the crowded restaurants. . . ;-) )
The EIS conference in Arizona is completely different. This is the third running of the conference, with tremendous growth from the first conference to the current conference, but still only 800 or so participants – much more manageable. It’s a terrific collection of venture funders, philanthropists, new education technology companies, policy makers, successful entrepreneurs, and visionary thinkers, all talking together in groups, at sessions, and 1-on-1 chats about new ideas and businesses to help transform education at all levels, together with trends in politics, policy, and technology that have major bearing on all this. (For example, Arizona has recently passed legislation to allow schools to choose to be competency-based for evaluation and financing rather than seat-time based, a terrific basis for innovation going forward.)
Unfortunately, very little reference to learning science’s empirical results came up in all this (very similar to curriculum work). One company presentation I attended, for Axonify, mentioned some long-standing findings in memory research, which was gratifying, and I heard a rumor that another company, Altius, announced a promising launch of a learning-science enabled learning management system (Carol Dweck’s work was mentioned – I intend to find out more). But that seemed about it.
Left me wondering about the missing cross-fertilization between what researchers have found out, and what entrepreneurs are weaving in. We at Kaplan are working on applying a number of well-established learning science results to courses, and have had some promising results with this (more to come – together with Lori Williams from Kaplan University, my colleague Brenda Sugrue presented some of those results at AERA). Yet the scheduling of EIS and AERA, overlapping for multiple days between Scottsdale and Vancouver, suggests the opportunities to communicate and benefit are not yet being realized.
It’s likely an accident of history and culture: the schools of education who produce most of the educators and administrators out there are not very steeped in the work on expertise and learning that’s come out of cognitive science in the last few decades. This means that many of the terrific entrepreneurial educators who jump in to education technology to help technologists don’t bring any of the learning science work with them, and technologists typically wouldn’t run across it on their own.
The result runs the risk of being unfortunate: basic principles with strong evidence for learning gains aren’t used (e.g., those described in the excellent handbook E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, by Clark and Mayer), and so good new ed-tech ideas might not show benefits to learning because they’re buried behind ineffective instructional techniques. I say “might not” – there were plenty of interesting companies with terrific ideas to help on other dimensions than just mastery of learning objectives.
It still makes me wonder if something more should be taking place between these two important sources of improvement for student success. AERA next year is happening in San Francisco – maybe if the next EIS session (held at Arizona State University every year so far) happens before or after AERA, we can get some overlaps of terrific researchers with terrific entrepreneurs, including some folks like Steve Ritter from Carnegie Learning who’ve lived in both worlds, and find out what’s in the way. Who knows? Maybe we can get a panel of VCs at AERA, too – just down the way from their usual Palo Alto Sand Hill Road HQs! ;-)
Industries like health care, materials science, electronics, and more have benefitted hugely from a regular flow of people and ideas from academic research, to start-ups, to major companies. Not every researcher needs to tie to a company to make this happen – still, it would be fun to get enough connected together to unblock the dam.