Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

When an advertisement says "research-based" on TV, my sceptical antennae are raised. I must admit to similar doubt when people talk about "evidence-based" in online learning. It's not that I discount evidence - far from it. But the nature and quality of evidence in our field is far from even. There is disagreement about desired outcomes, and even disagreement about the theoretical domain. I can use Wiley's own references to make my point:

  • One paper is drawn from biomedical research and introduces the reader to (a brand new?) "implementation science" designed "ensure that research investments maximize healthcare value and improve public health."
  • Another paper proposes "a novel model incorporating implementation science for translating cognitive science to classroom practice in higher education".
  • A third is an internal report produced by The Simon Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, and the paper itself uses "an anthropological approach" to arrive at its conclusions.
  • Another is locked behind a paywall, but the abstract recommends "the engineering of high quality evidence into a more usable format and presenting it actively or iteratively via a respected and trusted conduit, or through population measures such as legislation."

So what does the evidence tell us here? What are we to make of these different approaches? Does this assemblage of a concoction of approaches from various disciplines - medicine, psychology, engineering, anthropology - really convince us of anything? The reason educators don't adopt as evidence-based approach isn't, as Wiley suggests, because it's a threat to their identity. It's because trustworthy evidence hasn't been forthcoming.

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada
stephen@downes.ca

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Last Updated: Jun 23, 2021 3:50 p.m.