Developers: Share the Science Behind Your Product - Digital Promise

Developers: Share the Science Behind Your Product

March 9, 2015 | By

At universities across the country, researchers are designing and running experiments to better understand learning. Education researchers and learning scientists are studying a range of topics such as motivation, engagement, learning progressions, memory, literacy, child development, and learning disabilities.

Still, very little knowledge gathered from the research literature informs classroom practice – an immense challenge that numerous organizations are working to overcome.

Digital Promise is collecting and highlighting examples of research-informed product design, development, and improvement to help school districts better understand why and how to identify research-based products that can be implemented in the classroom.



Education technology developers have a unique opportunity to apply research findings, which are largely tucked away in dusty journals on graduate students’ desks and in corners of the internet, to improve learning opportunities for teachers and students.

A few examples:

  • Behavior research can be used to enhance classroom management tools.
  • Research on formative assessment, engagement, and how students master specific content can play an important role in the design of educational games and instructional software.
  • Reading comprehension studies can guide the development and improvement of literacy programs and e-readers.

In a recent study, 90 percent of education technology providers reported that their product development is directly informed by research evidence and educational outcomes. What research? And how is it used in product design and development? How can developers and researchers work together to ensure scientific findings responsibly make their way to the classroom through learning technologies?

One key way in which developers use academic research is through comprehensive literature reviews that inform product design and development. For example, Kidaptive’s Learner Mosaic product uses research in social emotional learning, parent engagement, early childhood education, behavior change and working memory to help parents support their child’s learning. Similarly, Goalbook provides educators with research-based best practices from organizations such as CAST and CASEL.

In addition to reading, understanding, and translating the research literature, some companies have full-time learning scientists on staff to ensure research is central to their products. For example, Teachley’s three co-founders each have PhDs in Cognitive Studies in Education. Their Addimal Adventure App, which teaches effective math strategies, is based on cognitive science research on young children’s mathematical development.

Other companies work closely with academic researchers to design and test their products. For instance, the Attainment Company partnered with researchers at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte to publish a beginning literacy curriculum, which was developed under a five-year Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) funded grant. Further strengthening their research-based product development, Attainment worked directly with researchers to guide development of an iPad-based phonics program under a Small Business Innovation Grant (SBIR).

While findings from academic research studies provide valuable knowledge, what is shown to be effective in controlled studies does not always prove useful in practice. Therefore, companies must carefully transform research done in academic settings into impactful learning technology, and test their products for effectiveness.

Some organizations like GlassLab are doing just that. The organization uses research on human development and psychometrics to understand how students’ knowledge and abilities tend to grow over time. This knowledge guides and focuses their educational game design. But they don’t stop there – GlassLab works with students and teachers to tests the game’s effectiveness and makes necessary changes in order to improve learning outcomes.

While the products mentioned above provide valuable insight into how research on learning can be embedded into education technology, more examples are needed to encourage effective research-informed product development.

Check out the link to the form below to share your best practices, and share this with other developers who you think are using research effectively in product design!

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