Education research is often a slow and costly process. An even more difficult challenge is replicating research findings in a timely and cost-effective way to ensure that they are meaningful for the wide range of contexts and populations that make up our nation’s school system.
In a recent op-ed, IES Director Mark Schneider and Schmidt Futures Senior Director for Technology and Society Kumar Garg pitched the idea that digital learning platforms may be a way to accelerate the research enterprise. These platforms will enable researchers to try new ideas and replicate interventions quickly across many sites and with a wide range of student populations. They could also open the door for educators to get more involved in the research process. For example, Learn Platform supports districts as they make decisions about purchasing and implementing products in their schools, and ASSISTments provides infrastructure for researchers to conduct cheaper and faster studies than they would be able to do on their own.
IES Director Mark Schneider and NCER Commissioner Liz Albro recently attended a meeting sponsored by Schmidt Futures focused on these issues. Two major takeaways from the meeting: first, there is already progress on building and using platforms for testing interventions, and, second, platform developers are enthusiastic about integrating research capabilities into their work.
As we consider how we can support platform developers, researchers, and education personnel to co-design tools to enable more efficient, large scale research on digital learning platforms, several questions have arisen:
- What digital learning platforms already have a large enough user base to support large scale research studies?
- Are there content areas or grade levels that are not well supported through digital learning platforms?
- What are the key features that a platform needs to have to support rigorous tests and rapid replication of research findings?
- What are the barriers and challenges for companies interested in participating in this effort?
- What kinds of research questions can best be answered in this research environment?
- What kind of infrastructure needs to be developed around the platform to enable seamless collaborations between education stakeholders, researchers, and product developers?
We know there are some of you have already given these questions some thought. In addition, there are other questions and issues that we haven’t considered. We welcome your thoughts. Feel free to email us at Erin.Higgins@ed.gov and Elizabeth.Albro@ed.gov. And join NCER’s Virtual Learning Lab in their virtual workshop “Designing Online Learning Platforms to Enable Research” on April 17th, 3:00pm-5:00pm Eastern Time. Learn more about the workshop here.