Evidence for Planners: Why Research-based Learning Works

Planning learning spaces starts from arriving at a common understanding of what the users of the space are to be doing in the space, what they will be able to do within the space. At this point, it is important to give attention to research on learning, on classroom practices, on evidence from the field about what, why, and how.

Engage to Excel, the recent report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), is an important resource for planning formal learning spaces. Although its focus in on STEM majors, the evidence presented about what works and what does not is compelling for all with responsibility for shaping and reshaping places in which undergraduate learners in all fields achieve desired learning outcomes, including:

  • The habits of mind, skills, and identity that prepare them for the world beyond the campus
  • The comprehension and retention of what they are learning in a particular time, place, and discipline.

Thee parts of this report stand out as helpful planning tools when the focus is on formal, general purpose learning spaces. These are Appendix F: Efficacy of Various Classroom Methods, Appendix G: Review of Evidence that Research Experiences have Impacts on Retention; and Appendix H: Effective Programs to Improve STEM Undergraduate Education. For example:

Appendix F: The research indicates that many different types of active engagement can accomplish learning gains. Introduction of clickers into a lecture, having students solve a problem before attending a lecture, us of group discussion, problem-solving, individual writing or “one-minute papers,” taking a test, conducting an inquiry-based lab, and combinations of these activities all have had significant impacts in improving learning. ….based on the numerous data points available, we posit that the key to change is to bring to STEM classrooms [all classrooms] various approaches that truly engage students intellectually and involve thinking, problem-solving, questioning, or analyzing information. …it is reasonable to say that if one active-learning event in which students engaged and received feedback were incorporated into each classroom session of every introductory college class in the United States, science education would likely be transformed.

These words can be translated into checklists:

  • at the beginning stages of planning (who is now doing what, where, how—where are the problems, where are the pioneers)
  • at the end of planning (who is now doing what, where, how—where are the examples of success, the prototypes for next steps).

These words also signal that planning spaces for any particular disciplinary community can be the responsibility of the entire campus; they present a vision of a time when such practices are …incorporated into each classroom session of every introductory college class in the United States….