Unlocking Research to Improve Learning - Digital Promise

Unlocking Research to Improve Learning

July 24, 2015 | By

Teachers and ed tech developers across the country tell us they are unable to access the research they need to help students learn. Often, scholarly research articles are expensive to purchase; for example, a single article from a top education journal on Google Scholar costs an average of $30. Articles are also frequently written in jargon or highly technical language that is difficult to translate into actual practice.

However, when research is widely available and effectively communicated, people can put it to use in their everyday lives. Making education research more accessible helps both teachers and ed tech developers make informed decisions based on the scientific evidence of how people learn. Below, we share suggestions gathered from researchers, developers, and educators at our recent Research Summit on how to increase access to academic research, and communicate it more clearly to the public.

Making Research Freely Available

To understand why it is important to make research more widely available, imagine an entrepreneur wants to develop an app to reduce student test anxiety. If the entrepreneur wants to base her product on the latest research, getting access to the top 10 “testing anxiety” articles published in the last decade on Google Scholar would cost over $280. This expense can serve as a deterrent that ultimately hurts the effectiveness of the product.

To help solve this problem, there is an increasing call for academics to publish in open access journals that are freely available online, and still maintain the rigor of traditional academic journals. Similarly, some scholars are putting data online in a way that maintains the privacy of research participants while allowing others to verify their work. Doing so helps increase transparency and public trust in the research process.

Other ideas on steps researchers can take to improve access to their data:

  • Consider publishing your work in an open access journal, such as the recently launched AERA Open
  • For past research in subscription-based journals, request green level open access, which allows you to post a copy online for the public
  • Make datasets and study materials publicly available while also maintaining privacy of research subjects. The Center for Open Science has many resources for this.

Translating Research for a Broad Audience

While common access is an essential step toward improving student learning, research also needs to be shared effectively to be useful to practitioners. For example, a third-grade classroom teacher may want to find research on ways he can boost his students’ motivation to read outside of school. The related articles published by leading scholars are lengthy and full of jargon such as “contingent self-worth” and “ability attributions” that are only used by experts in that narrow field.

In order for the teacher to put the academic work into practice, the research needs to be translated into simple, practical language that doesn’t require an advanced degree to understand. Luckily, technology has opened new ways for academics to communicate their research to a broader audience.

Here are some steps researchers can take to communicate their findings to a broader audience:

  • Sharing academic findings through blogging, social media, and videos that can act as translational research, which explains scholarly work

Research on learning is a powerful tool that educators and developers can benefit from, but common access and effective communication are needed to make this a reality. One way Digital Promise is contributing to this effort is through our new bibliometric map of education research (currently in development). By collaborating with researchers to develop the map and make academic findings open and understandable, more practitioners can incorporate research in teaching and ed tech products. And ultimately, evidence-based strategies will allow educators and developers to leverage academic research to improve learning outcomes for all students.

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