06/10/2013 02:13 pm ET Updated Aug 10, 2013

Why Study the Learning Process If the Data Isn't Used?

One would think the world of education -- including educators, decision makers and government education policy generators -- would base decisions on grounded research. After all, these are folks who have managed to make their way to a higher order of thinking and graduated with a degree from our educational institutions. Why then is there such a gap between what we know (through research) and what we do (practice/make decisions)?

We cry that our education system is broken. It is. I have written about such sets of wicked problems relative to education before. We try different catch phrases like "no child left behind" and in the process leave potentially even more behind. Einstein would say something like, "If you continue to do the same thing and expect a different result it is a form of insanity." In my view we are in an insanity loop. We could be going down a better path by incorporating research. Look at the research depth:

  • Brain science. This field has been working hard to understand how we process information. Authors like Patricia Wolfe and Laura Erlauer share a perspective that we should build brain compatible classrooms honoring not only cognitive development, but support changing development as individuals grow.
  • Learning science. This research history is rich and deep supported by a myriad of disciplines and individuals. Areas of research include knowledge shared by learning theorists (e.g., Piaget, Vygotsky, Bloom, Kolb, etc.), multiple scientific disciplines (e.g., Psychology, Philosophy, Social Anthropology, Education, etc.), and the lists go on and on over many, many years.
  • Environment behavior theorists. This work studies how the built environment impacts human behavior (e.g., Altman, Sommer, Hall, etc.). The research in this arena helps us understand how the design of the built space should recognize the explicit and implicit meaning space has on our behaviors. Design decisions should understand and incorporate this work intentionally.

Education business models could work from these understandings to support efficacy and not just an efficiency model (i.e., how many bums in seats can we get into a space). In fact, we've seen it work before; Gary Pavlechko and the team at Ball State University in Indiana are using Steelcase's research and evidence-based design solutions in settings to help faculty members understand, learn and experiment with what it means to teach using learner-center/active learning methods. This institution's model is having a positive impact on faculty and students statistically and anecdotally.

Again, why are we not basing our educational practice and in fact our policy decisions on grounded research? We know a lot. We have a lot more to learn, but major platforms of science and work from multiple scientific disciplines share a commonality we are not using. How can we continue on? We can't. We need to put the brakes on immediately. It's about having a willingness to unlearn and leap into a relearning with a grounded practice with proven research guiding our way.

We can't afford to let one more child be left behind. To ensure this is the case, we must:
  1. Honor the science of learning and allow it to inform decisions.
  2. Prepare to make major leaps, not slowly "get up to speed."
  3. Ensure, across kindergarten through higher education, every educator is assessed on their knowledge of this grounded theory and its application in the formal learning space -- the classroom. (Higher education faculty members are not taught how to teach, nor learn about learning).
  4. Allow education to be the "calling" it once was and not teach to tests that may in fact be measuring the wrong knowledge elements.

Why research if the learnings are not used? Educating our children is our future. Stop using old practices and decision models which don't work (perhaps never really worked) just because that is what we are familiar with. Think holistically about the ramifications of not getting our educational practices and models right. Let's use research to guide our education's future.