Ask A Researcher #5 – Dr. Paul Kirschner

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.

Paul A. Kirschner, dr.h.c. (1951) is Emeritus Professor Educational Psychology at the Open Universiteit (NL), Guest Professor at the Thomas More University of Applied Science in Mechelen, Belgium and owner of kirschner-ED. He is Research Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, International Society of the Learning Sciences, and Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Science. His most recent books are: How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice (with Carl Hendrick), Evidence Informed Learning Design (with Mirjam Neelen), Urban Myths about Learning and Education and More Urban Myths about Learning and Education: Challenging Eduquacks, Extraordinary Claims, and Alternative Facts (both with Pedro de Bruyckere and Casper Hulshof).

Follow him on Twitter @P_A_Kirschner, go to his website, and visit his various blogs (3 Star Learning Experiences and Paul’s Random Thoughts).

Without further ado, let’s ask a researcher:

1. What is the focus of your research?

My research focuses first on how people learn. Based on this I study how we can make instruction more effective (learn more and/or more deeply), more efficient (more quickly and/or with optimal use of the cognitive load that the instruction brings about), and more enjoyable (giving students a feeling of achievement and success). This is also the case for teaching, that is: making the teaching more effective, efficient and enjoyable.

2. What are you currently working on?

On the research side it’s on improving learning materials via the use of study strategies like spaced practice, retrieval practice, interleaving. I’m also studying how we can help teachers and teachers in training to make use of these strategies with their students. Finally I’m researching different kinds of curriculum reform.
I’m also doing quite a bit of writing (books, blogs) and speaking (trainings, conferences, etc.) with the aim of bringing what we know about cognitive science (i.e., how people learn) to teachers to help them improve their teaching.

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

Research on cognitive load theory and what that means for good instruction and on how we optimally make use of collaborative learning – either face-to-face or computer supported – in education.

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

That’s a hard question. On the one hand they need to know that research doesn’t bring certainty but questions certainties. It can tell us what could or should work in what situations with what types of learners and not what you must do. It helps the teacher to be evidence-informed. It can, however tell you what you mustn’t do. Science is not something stable and unchanging, but dynamic and questioning. That’s what a good researcher does.
On the other hand, being a researcher is about being a partner in the educational process. It’s about listening, working together, translating, and so forth. We’re – or at least should be – partners in ensuring that people learn better.

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

I think that one thing that they can do is to try to bridge the gap in their knowledge of cognitive and educational sciences. My experience is that teacher training, in any event in the US and the Netherlands, is notoriously lacking in teaching new teachers the basics of the field that they are or will be working in. The book that I wrote with Carl Hendrick How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice (available from the publisher Routledge/Taylor and Francis and Amazon) was written with this goal in mind. Other authors whose books can help are Daniel Willingham (When Can You Trust the Experts), Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion), Tom Sherrington (Rosenshines Principles in Action) just to name a few.
Another thing that they can do is learn to be more questioning, critical and even skeptical of wonder cures, romantic ideologies, educational myths, and people whom I call eduquacks.
Finally follow blogs like mine, yours, the Learning Scientists, Greg Ashman, Pedro de Bruyckere, Daisy Christodoulou, and on and on and on.

I am a massive fan of Dr. Kirschner and his work. He was one of the first researchers I began to really study and follow on twitter. To say that his work has had a positive impact on my teaching and my student’s learning is quite the understatement. He is, without a doubt, an ally of the classroom teacher and ‘what works’.

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.

One thought on “Ask A Researcher #5 – Dr. Paul Kirschner

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  1. I’m a big Kirschner fan, too. Kirschnerian? Kirschnerd? Oo, that’s a good one! I’m a Kirschnerd.

    Ten Steps to Complex Learning is a detailed approach to course building. My own methods align closely with Ten Steps, though were developed before reading the book. I recommend the book, if you like evidence-informed planning.

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