Ask A Researcher #8 – Dr. Nick Soderstrom

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. Nick Soderstrom is the lead learning scientist at Lasting Learning and an instructor of psychology at Montana State University. He received his doctoral degree in cognitive psychology from Colorado State University (advisors: Dr. David McCabe and Dr. Matthew Rhodes) and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles (advisors: Drs. Robert and Elizabeth Bjork). He is an expert in human learning and memory and his scholarship has been published in the field’s top peer-reviewed journals. Deeply committed to applying the science of learning to enhance educational practices, he serves as active liaison between learning scientists and the general public by giving talks and writing highly accessible books and articles on how evidence-informed practices can transform the way people teach and learn. He has been recognized for his excellence in both teaching and research. Follow him on Twitter @NickSoderstrom.

Without further ado, let’s ask a researcher:

1. What is the focus of your research?

My research examines the processes involved in human learning and memory. I am particularly interested in identifying ways to promote long-term learning and improve metacognition (i.e., the awareness of one’s own thinking and how to regulate one’s own learning). Findings from such research can inform contemporary theories of learning and memory and can be applied to enhance the educational practices of students and educators alike.

2. What are you currently working on?

My current efforts are focused on working with teachers and coaches to implement evidence-informed learning strategies to improve long-term retention and transfer of knowledge and skills.

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

My research on the benefits of retrieval practice and spacing are especially applicable in the classroom. Furthermore, I (along with Dr. Robert Bjork) provided the first comprehensive review of the critical distinction between learning—the relatively permanent changes in knowledge or behavior—and performance—the temporary fluctuations in knowledge or behavior that are measured during instruction. Understanding the rather counterintuitive relationship between learning and performance has the potential to help teachers improve upon their classroom practices. For those interested, I wrote an introductory article on this topic that can be found here.  

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

Educational research is tricky and often takes longer to complete than one would like. Also, although basic research is often viewed as less important than applied research, both are essential to get a full picture of the empirical landscape as it relates to educational issues.   

5. What can teachers do to work with the research community? I would encourage teachers to seek out articles and books that synthesize the major research findings in human learning and memory, and to reach out to researchers whose work interests them. Many researchers, including myself, are more than happy to converse and collaborate with teachers with the goal of improving education.

I’ve known Dr. Soderstrom via twitter for quite a while. I’ve also enjoyed getting to know him a bit better through his work with Lasting Learning. His work is very important and applicable to the classroom. I’ve enjoyed reading and considering his research as it applies to learning in my classroom.

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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