Ask A Researcher #1 – Dr. Robert Bjork

There is a gap between those researching practices in education and those implementing that research (teachers). This gap doesn’t really serve anyone and only adds to the disconnect between researchers and classroom teachers. Both ‘sides’ would greatly benefit from listening to the other. A teacher is a veritable treasure trove of expertise. Why would those conducting experiments to better education not want that important experience to drive and shape their research? A researcher’s knowledge of proper experimentation and understanding of outcomes could only stand to benefit the classroom teacher. 

This series (Ask A Researcher) is my attempt to close that gap a bit. By providing an opportunity to know a little more about those conducting the research, I hope teachers may feel a little more at ease with reading research articles and writing to those conducting the research…asking questions, seeking clarification, providing assistance. This obvious partnership could really improve both research/experimentation, classroom instruction, and education, overall. 

Dr. Robert Bjork is the first researcher questioned and is a stalwart in education research. He is a principal investigator with the Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA. He is also a Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.  His research focuses on human learning and memory and on the implications of the science of learning for instruction and training.  He has served as president or chair of the American Psychological Society; the Psychonomic Society; the Society of Experimental Psychologists; UCLA’s Department of Psychology; and the National Research Council’s Committee on Techniques for the Enhancement of Human Performance. He also served as Editor of Psychological Review; Editor of Memory & Cognition; Co-editor of Psychological Science in the Public Interest; and Chair of the Council of Editors of the American Psychological Association. He is a recipient of UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award; the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientist Lecturer and Distinguished Service to Psychological Science Awards; the Society of Experimental Psychologists’ Norman Anderson Lifetime Achievement Award; and, together with Dr. Elizabeth Bjork, both the James McKeen Cattell Award and the Mentor Award from the Association for Psychological Science. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Without further ado, let’s ask a researcher:

1. What is the focus of your research?

How humans learn versus how they think they learn.  

2. What are you currently working on?

How to best use testing as a learning event.  When and why using Google can impair later recall.  When and why varying the environmental context of studying can enhance later recall.  How the scheduling of retrieval practice and restudying should vary with the difficulty of the material being learned and a learner’s degree of prior learning. 

3. What work have you done that you believe most applies to the classroom?

How to incorporate and schedule retrieval practice.  

4. What do teachers need to know about being a researcher as it relates to education?

That our intuitions about learning and/or how we were taught are fallible guides to optimizing our students’ learning. 

5. What can teachers do to work with the research community?

A good place to start is to read one of the recent books that summarize educationally relevant research, such as Benedict Carey’s “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When Where and Why it Happens,” Brown, Roediger, and McDaniels “Make it Stick,” or Lang’s “Small Teaching,”  and then contact any cited researcher whose work seems relevant to what you teach and to issues/ideas you have with respect to optimizing teaching.

It is very interesting, as a teacher, to take a peek into the work of the education researcher. I know I have benefited greatly from Dr. Bjork’s work. It was a real honor to get the email back from him agreeing to contribute. I’m quite grateful that he sees the importance of closing the gap between researchers and teachers. My article, Desiring Difficulties, was written primarily with the research of Dr. Bjork in mind.

So, what can you do? If you’re a teacher, simply write an email of gratitude or inquiry to an author. It’s that easy. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised how appreciative they are. If you’re a researcher, find classroom teachers on twitter or just email a local school. I assure you, we’d love to be included in the process.

Create the relationship. Close the gap. Improve education.

Are you a researcher interested in being featured in this series? Please feel free to contact me.

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4 thoughts on “Ask A Researcher #1 – Dr. Robert Bjork

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  1. Good idea and good luck with growth of this initiative. First problem to surpass: researchers need to publish open access. If the research is not available (including open source data repositories), the teacher cannot access, therefore cannot participate.

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