Last month I complained about the anti-intellectualism exhibited when historians dismiss and even disparage research in teaching and learning. This semester I am trying to read through research in several pedagogy journals including, The Review of Higher Education, Review of Educational Research, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Learning and Instruction, and Educational Research Review.
My first observation is that faculty can control only a small portion of the many factors affecting student learning. Much of the most intense research on learning comes back to the importance of administrative policies, student life experiences, and broader social trends. This glimpse into the importance of decisions made by administrators gives me a bit more sympathy for those academics who have gone to the “dark side” of higher ed, sympathy that perhaps ought to be transformed into moments of solidarity, particularly as corporate-trained outsiders seek to “reform” higher ed. But that is a topic for another series of posts, and one well beyond my pay grade.
I should admit that I approached this little project with considerably anxiety that the results would convince me I was doing everything wrong, and I would have to invest much more time planning instruction that coincided with contemporary research. Having studied educational psychology as an undergraduate, I am vaguely familiar with the complexity of the literature. However, as an assistant professor beginning to assemble a tenure portfolio, I have a realistic awareness of the relative values placed on the “research, teaching, service” triad. The time we can spend on preparing our classes is limited. For this reason, I am pleased to begin this little series by reporting on research that should improve our efficiency.
After browsing the past several years of The Review of Higher Education, I was most struck by Matthew T. Hora’s “Exploring Faculty Beliefs about Student Learning and Their Role in Instructional Decision-Making.” 1)Matthew T. Hora, “Exploring Faculty Beliefs about Student Learning and Their Role in Instructional Decision-Making,” The Review of Higher Education, 38:1 (Fall 2014), 37-70 Hora sought to understand “What beliefs do faculty have for how undergraduate students learn in their discipline” and then evaluate the validity of those beliefs. The article makes much of the importance of adopting “sophisticated student-centered perspectives” to maximize learning outcomes. 2)38
The most commonly reported belief in the study was that students learn best when engaged in a diligent course of study with the material on their own time. Unfortunately, studies show that students are spending less time outside of class. A 2011 study found that the average full-time student at four-year colleges studied 14 hours per week in 2003, as compared to 24 hours per week in 1961. 3)Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks, “The Falling Time Cost of College: Evidence from Half a Century of Time Use Data,” The Review of Economics and Statistics,” Vol. 93, No. 2 (May 2011), 468-478
More interesting is the second most commonly reported belief, “students learn according to different styles, and that differentiated instruction should be provided to students of different abilities and background.” (62) From my undergraduate study of educational theory, I recall tremendous encouragements for differentiated instruction. In fact, my own teaching philosophy trumpets the importance of differentiated instruction.
But does differentiated instruction actually change outcomes? Research indicates it does not.
Most directly stated by Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham, “There is no credible evidence that learning styles exist.” 4)Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham, “The Myth of Learning Styles,” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning (Sept-Oct 2010) Hora finds that “research does support the notion that students do have preferences for learning,” but preferences are different from actual benefits. According to Hora, “Research adapting teaching styles to learning preferences makes no statistical difference under controlled conditions.” 5)Hora, 62
Given this research, Riener and Willingham suggest that instructors should consider the teaching style best suited to their particular content, and the prior knowledge of their students, without anxiety about reaching different learning styles.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Matthew T. Hora, “Exploring Faculty Beliefs about Student Learning and Their Role in Instructional Decision-Making,” The Review of Higher Education, 38:1 (Fall 2014), 37-70|
|3.||↑||Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks, “The Falling Time Cost of College: Evidence from Half a Century of Time Use Data,” The Review of Economics and Statistics,” Vol. 93, No. 2 (May 2011), 468-478|
|4.||↑||Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham, “The Myth of Learning Styles,” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning (Sept-Oct 2010|