Why Isn’t researchED More Popular in the US…Yet?

“ ‘I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.’  – Neo”  – Tom Bennett

ResearchED founder, Tom Bennett, spoke these words at the conclusion of the latest researchED conference in the United States (October 7 in Brooklyn, NYC).  ResearchED has experienced nice growth in the UK since its inception in 2012 and has since grown to include conferences in Australia, Sweden, Canada, the Netherlands, etc.  Growth in the United States has lagged  behind a bit, though.  Below, I would like to propose a few reasons why I believe this is so.  To be completely honest, I am a big supporter of the goals of researchED and believe a more evidence-based approach to professional development and classroom strategies is very important for the success of students in classrooms across the globe.    

Why isn’t researchED more popular in the United States…yet?

No Assembly Required

There’s no gimmick with researchED and evidence-based practice.  Research tells us of certain learning strategies that assist with retention of material.  ResearchED aims to further the proliferation of this knowledge.  There’s no product to buy.  No tool.  No technology required for use.  No assembly required.  It’s so straightforward that I believe most in the US would completely miss the point of the implementation of these strategies (spaced practice, retrieval practice, and dual coding to name a few).  Without some app or tool to use, some would wonder if there was actually anything here of worth with researchED.  The answer is yes.  In my opinion, the answer to bettering our classrooms isn’t to make instruction more complicated with more stuff; simplify the classroom and make learning the main reason for education again.  

Talk Is Cheap

Implementing the learning strategies cost basically nothing for the American school district and classroom teacher.  As stated above, there’s no researchED multi-tool to purchase that will revolutionize your classroom and that may scare some teachers and school districts.  I believe the common thought is if there’s nothing to purchase, no product to obtain, how can we implement ‘it’?  The product, if there is one, is the fruits of the labor of researchers such as The Learning Scientists,  Dr. Daniel Willingham, Dr. Efrat Furst, and Dr. Pooja Agarwal at Retrieval Practice.  There are MANY others who work in the field of the science of learning; these are simply four wonderful examples.  Those who work in this genre research both how the brain works and how to best increase retention of material in the classroom with this knowledge.  The results of the research and the implementation of the strategies is the product.  Unfortunately, for many in the United States, the science isn’t enough.  That is a real shame for our students and classrooms.  

You Know What Assuming Does

Many teachers and school districts may read about the learning strategies and assume they’re ‘already doing this’.  Well…yes, but no.  I’m sure your teachers are assessing and prompting retrieval of information.  I’m sure they distribute, or space, their learning occasionally.  Some may encourage dual coding and maybe a select few interleave material.  But is it intentional?  There is a real science, that we are still learning about, to the implementation of these strategies.  It is much more than just asking questions and drawing pictures.  And, in a somewhat paradoxical way, successful implementation of the strategies actually act to simply the classroom, which can act to decrease the cognitive load on student’s working memory and lead to better retention of material.  

So…what now?

For the most part, I think time is mostly what’s required for researchED to find success in the United States, like it has elsewhere around the globe.  It is relatively new grass-roots project.  And time…time is on my side, yes it is.  Why?  The beliefs of researchED are fad-proof.   There’s actually scientific research to back its claims.  Also, I believe continued work on social media will further the cause.  Although almost every American edchat deals with either empathy or technology in the classroom, I drudge through as many as I can trying to insert some researchED rhetoric.  Why?  Because that’s where the teachers are and our students are worth it.  Lastly, continued researchED conferences in the United States and Canada will continue to get the word out.  I highly recommend you attend, if the opportunity arises.  The fees are unbelievably reasonable and the bang for your buck is great.  And the best part of attending?  You’ll leave a much better informed teacher for your students.  You’ll be armed with the science of learning and practical activities for the classroom.  

So, I’ll end this post the way I began it:
“ ‘I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.’  – Neo”  – Tom Bennett

7 thoughts on “Why Isn’t researchED More Popular in the US…Yet?

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  1. I heartily endorse your call to bring more research-based practices to our schools, including spaced practice, retrieval practice, interleaving, dual coding, and so on. But I don’t agree that “It’s so straightforward …” That there’s “No assembly required.” Or that “Implementing the learning strategies costs basically nothing…”

    I should make clear that I have a significant bias — I lead the team responsible for the several most recent editions of the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project’s elementary curriculum, Everyday Mathematics. We’ve been trying to build ideas such as spaced practice, interleaving, dual coding, etc. into our stuff for decades — and I can assure you it’s not easy either to create such materials or to get them understood and used.

    For example, massing learning leads to what Robert Bjork calls “illusions of competence”, which are very seductive. Which is one reason almost all textbooks take a massed approach — because massing feels right to both students and teachers. And since most teachers are heavily dependent on textbooks — especially in mathematics — having textbooks that mass rather than space makes spacing (and interleaving) hard.

    I must also point out that your comment that “science is not enough” applies not only to many in the United States but to people in general. David Hume pointed out long ago that “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” When it comes to making decisions, science is the rider on the elephant of our “passions”.

    To end on a bit more positive note, I do agree that social media can help. I only hope that you and the Learning Scientists and others like them continue to build a social media movement aimed at getting these research-based ideas into practice.

    Andy Isaacs

    1. Andy,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I sincerely appreciate it. Your perspective is certainly different than mine and you have much more experience in this area. ALL of your comments are very valid…massed practice seems to be better, that this is not just at US problem, etc.

      To be honest, I’m trying to point fingers at the education system in the US…so I was a bit specific there.

      Again, thanks for taking time to add to the article; it is much appreciated.


  2. I think a lot of the difference is that in the US we do not have GCSEs or A level like exams. We do have AP classes but for most subjects they do not extend beyond a year of High School. I think the US is just not as motivated to use the techniques because we have fewer examples of longitudinal learning.

    I think it is a shame though that we are not using these strategies, and that we are not teaching them to teachers. Keep up the good work.

    1. Jessica, that’s an interesting note about the lack of GCSEs and A Levels – Australia is similar in this respect, with most states only having a final external exam (if at all) in Year 12 – VCE in Victoria, HSC in New South Wales. Yet ResearchEd is taking off more in Australia than the US.

      Here in East Asia, we’re still waiting for ResearchEd to appear at all – I’m looking forward to connecting with other educators and thinkers in this region.

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