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Evidence-based education is the use of well designed scientific studies to determine which education methods work best. It consists of evidence-based teaching and evidence-based learning. Evidence-based methods such as spaced repetition have been shown to increase the rate at which a student learns. The evidence-based education movement has its roots in the larger movement towards evidence-based-practices.

Evidence-based learning techniquesEdit

Spaced repetitionEdit

Spaced repetition is a proven learning technique that is performed with flashcards. Newly introduced and more difficult flashcards are shown more frequently while older and less difficult flashcards are shown less frequently in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect. The use of spaced repetition has been shown to increase rate of learning.[1] Although the principle is useful in many contexts, spaced repetition is commonly applied in contexts in which a learner must acquire a large number of items and retain them indefinitely in memory. It is, therefore, well suited for the problem of vocabulary acquisition in the course of second language learning. A number of spaced repetition softwares have been developed to aid the learning process.[2]

Errorless learningEdit

Errorless learning was an instructional design introduced by psychologist Charles Ferster in the 1950s as part of his studies on what would make the most effective learning environment. B. F. Skinner was also influential in developing the technique, and noted: "errors are not necessary for learning to occur. Errors are not a function of learning or vice versa nor are they blamed on the learner. Errors are a function of poor analysis of behavior, a poorly designed shaping program, moving too fast from step to step in the program, and the lack of the prerequisite behavior necessary for success in the program." Errorless learning can also be understood at a synaptic level, using the principle of Hebbian learning ("Neurons that fire together wire together").

Interest from psychologists studying basic research on errorless learning declined after the 1970s. However, errorless learning attracted the interest of researchers in applied psychology, and studies have been conducted with both children (e.g., educational settings) and adults (e.g. Parkinson's patients). Errorless learning continues to be of practical interest to animal trainers, particularly dog trainers.[3]

Errorless learning has been found to be effective in helping memory-impaired people learn more effectively.[4] The reason for the method's effectiveness is that, while those with sufficient memory function can remember mistakes and learn from them, those with memory impairment may have difficulty remembering not only which methods work, but may strengthen incorrect responses over correct responses, such as via emotional stimuli. See also the reference by Brown to its application in teaching mathematics to undergraduates.

N-back trainingEdit

The n-back task is a continuous performance task that is commonly used as an assessment in cognitive neuroscience to measure a part of working memory and working memory capacity.[5] The n-back was introduced by Wayne Kirchner in 1958.[6]

A 2008 research paper claimed that practicing a dual n-back task can increase fluid intelligence (Gf), as measured in several different standard tests.[7] This finding received some attention from popular media, including an article in Wired.[8] However, a subsequent criticism of the paper's methodology questioned the experiment's validity and took issue with the lack of uniformity in the tests used to evaluate the control and test groups.[9] For example, the progressive nature of Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices (APM) test may have been compromised by modifications of time restrictions (i.e., 10 minutes were allowed to complete a normally 45-minute test). The authors of the original paper later addressed this criticism by citing research indicating that scores in timed administrations of the APM are predictive of scores in untimed administrations.[10]

The 2008 study was replicated in 2010 with results indicating that practicing single n-back may be almost equal to dual n-back in increasing the score on tests measuring Gf (fluid intelligence). The single n-back test used was the visual test, leaving out the audio test.[10] In 2011, the same authors showed long-lasting transfer effect in some conditions.[11]

Two studies published in 2012 failed to reproduce the effect of dual n-back training on fluid intelligence. These studies found that the effects of training did not transfer to any other cognitive ability tests.[12][13] In 2014, a meta-analysis of twenty studies showed that n-back training has small but significant effect on Gf and improve it on average for an equivalent of 3-4 points of IQ.[14] In January 2015, this meta-analysis was the subject of a critical review due to small-study effects.[15] The question of whether n-back training produces real-world improvements to working memory remains controversial.

Organizations and ProgramsEdit

Groups that conduct and evaluate research on education include the Education Endowment Foundation, What Works Clearinghouse, and The Coalition For Evidence-Based Policy. These organizations assess and rank the effectiveness of learning programs.

What Works ClearinghouseEdit

"What Works Clearinghouse" evaluates educational programs by evidence, rates the quality and quantity of the evidence and estimates the effectiveness. It is operated by the federal National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE). The 10 interventions below are currently the interventions with both the highest effectiveness rating of strong evidence of a positive effect with no overriding contrary evidence.[16]

Program Intervention Description Grades Improvement area and effect size
Success for All In kindergarten through first grade, teachers read aloud and discuss with students focusing on phonemic awareness, auditory discrimination, and sound blending. In the second through fifth grades cooperative learning activities built around partner reading are used. It is delivered with daily 90-minute reading classes consisting of 15–20 students, grouped by performance and regardless of their age. One-on-one tutoring is provided to students with learning difficulties. 8 Alphabetics (+9%)
READ 180 A reading program for those that are two or more grades years below grade level. The classes start off with whole-class instructions, which is followed by computer practices that are adaptive and individualized, small group activities or independent reading, with a whole-class wrap up in the end of the class. 4–10 Comprehension (+6%) and general literacy achievement (+4%)
Phonological Awareness Training Activities where children identify, detect, delete, segment, or blend segments of spoken words (i.e., words, syllables, onsets and rimes, phonemes) or that focus on teaching children to detect, identify, or produce rhyme or alliteration. PK Phonological processing (+27%)
Phonological Awareness Training plus Letter Knowledge Training The added letter knowledge training component includes teaching children the letters of the alphabet and making an explicit link between letters and sounds. PK Phonological processing (+30%), Print knowledge(+27)
Reading recovery Daily 30 minute one-on-one tutoring sessions to students who have difficulties in reading and writing over the course of 12–20 weeks. 1 Alphabetics (+21%), Reading achievement (+27)
Instructional Conversations and Literature Logs Program for English learners where teachers engage students to Instructional Conversations, where stories or personal experiences are discussed with teachers acting as facilitators. Literature Logs require students to respond in writing to prompts or questions. Responses are then shared in small groups or with a partner. 2–5 Reading achievement (+27%)
SpellRead Literacy program for struggling readers, including special education students and English language learners. SpellRead breaks the recognizing and manipulating of English sounds into specific skills, and focuses on mastering each skill through systematic and explicit instruction. 5–6 Alphabetics (+18%)
Dialogic Reading Shared picture book reading practice where the adult and the child switch roles so that the child learns to become the storyteller with the assistance of the adult, who functions as an active listener and questioner. PK Oral language (+19%)
DaisyQuest Computer-assisted instruction with a storyline and practices that teach children how to recognize words that rhyme; words that have the same beginning, middle, and ending sounds, words that can be formed from a series of phonemes presented separately and also teaches children how to count the number of sounds in words. PK–1 Alphabetics (+23%)
Earobics Interactive software that provides individual instruction for phonemic awareness, auditory processing, and phonics, as well as the cognitive and language skills required for comprehension. Each level of instruction addresses recognizing and blending sounds, rhyming, and discriminating phonemes. The software is supported by audio, video and reading materials. 3 Alphabetics (+19%)
Stepping Stones to Literacy The program includes serial rapid automatic naming activities where children practice making quick visual-verbal associations of known sets of colors, numbers, and/or letter names in a left-to-right format, and instructional prompts in English and Spanish. 3 Alphabetics (+19%)
Teach For America Placing non-traditionally trained teachers in high-need public schools. Many TFA teachers hold bachelors’ degrees from selective colleges and universities. 12 Mathematis Achievement (+4%)
Caring School Community (CSC) Program consists of class meeting lessons, cross-age “buddies” programs, “homeside” activities, and creation of schoolwide community by bringing school staff, parents and students together to create new school traditions. 6 Behavior (+8%), Knowledge, attitudes, and values (+7%)
First Step to Success Program seeks to detect children who at risk to develop antisocial behavior patterns and match them with behavior coaches who work with the child, his or her classpeers and parents for approximately 50-60 hours over a 3-month period. 3 External behavior (+28)
Social Skills Training Collection of practices using modeling, role-playing, and specific instruction on social skills, with positive reinforcement for engaging in appropriate social behavior. PK Social-emotional development (+12)
Dual Enrollment Programs The intervention allows high school students to take college courses and earn college credits while still attending high school. 9–12 Access and enrollment (+15), Attainment (+25), Completing school (+7), Credit accumulation (+14), General academic achievement - high school (+7)
Check & Connect Students are assigned a “monitor” who regularly checks their performance (in particular, whether students are having attendance, behavior, or academic problems) and connects with school personnel, family members, and community service providers when problems are identified. 9–12 Staying in school (+25)
ACT/SAT Test Preparation and Coaching Programs Test preparation programs with the goal of increasing student scores on college entrance tests. 10–12 General academic achievement-high school (+9)
Positive action Teaches children positive and constructive way of thinking about themselves and acting towards others using methods such as discussions, role-playing and games. The program uses factsheets, booklets and songs as teaching material. 1–12 Behavior (+19%) and general academic achievement (+14%)
Coping power The program consists of a child and a parent component. The child component consists of thirty-four 50 minute group sessions and periodic individual sessions over the course of 15–18 months. The parent component consists of 16 group sessions and periodic individual meetings. The child component emphasizes goal setting, problem-solving, anger management and peer relationships and consists, while the parent lessons emphasize setting expectations, praise, discipline, managing stress, communication and child study skills. K-12 students with emotional disturbances External behavior (+8%) and social outcomes (+6%)
Too Good for Drugs and Violence The program promotes prosocial behavior and norms, and consists of 14 core lessons with additional 12 lessons that include roleplaying and co-operative learning. Pupils are encouraged to apply the skills taught, for example by infusing the lessons into subjects such as English, science or social studies 5, with additional program for 8 Knowledge, attitudes and values (+16%)
I CAN Learn Algebra The program is mastery-based and uses self-paced educational software. 8 Mathematics achievement (+7%)
Pre-K Mathematics The program uses small group activities (4 - 6 children) with concrete manipulatives and includes take-home picture strips and activities that are designed to help parents support their learning, as well as a software with activities to reinforce the lessons. PK Mathematics achievement (19%)
Literacy Express Includes lessons on oral language, emergent literacy, basic math, science, general knowledge, socioemotional development. It offers the staff with recommendations for room arrangement, daily schedules, classroom management and activities, and provides them with teaching materials. PK students, especially those with special needs Print knowledge (+12%), oral language (+12%) and psychological processing (+12%)
Accelerated Middle Schools The intervention gives additional teaching and attempts to cover an additional year of curriculum during its 1 or 2-year duration. Classes link multiple subjects and are designed to have a "hands on" practical approach. 6–8, High risk and low performing students in grades who are behind their grade levels Progressing in school (+35%), staying in school (+18%)

The Coalition For Evidence-Based PolicyEdit

The Coalition For Evidence-Based Policy, which is a non-partisan, non-profit organization advocating the use of well-conducted randomized controlled trials in policy, has recognized three educational programs as "Top Tier". Programs classified as "Top Tier" must have been proven to be effective in randomized controlled trials that were well designed and implemented.[17]

Program Intervention Description Sample size Sample characteristics Outcomes Costs
Career Academies The intervention happens in learning communities consisting of 150–200 students. It combines academic and technical curricula in partnership with local employers, typically with a specific career theme. 1 764 students in 9 high schools 86% of the students in the study sample were Hispanic or African-American and the high schools were in high poverty urban areas. 11% increase in average annual earnings ($2,460 per year), sustained over the eight years after scheduled high school graduation. The effect was concentrated among men (who experienced a 17% earnings increase), and was not statistically significant for women. Approximately $2,300 per student for a three-year Career Academy, or $3,000 per student for a four-year Career Academy.
Success For All A school wide reading program to grades K–2 with emphasis on early detection and prevention of reading problems. Key program elements include daily 90-minute reading classes where students are grouped by performance, not age and in addition daily one-on-one tutoring to students with learning problems. First year includes curriculum that focuses on language development and phonemic awareness and second year learning activities that happen in teams or pairs. 41 schools with a total student population of 2,694 56% African-American, 10% Hispanic of whom 72% of students were eligible for federally subsidized lunches. Schools that were allocated to the program increased their average reading achievement by 25–30% of a grade-level three years after random assignment. Approximately $220,000 per school (K–5) or $510 per student, over the full three-year period.*
H&R Block College Financial Aid Application Assistance Offering personal assistance in completing a college financial aid application. Approximately 1045 students 57% female, 55% white, 39% African American who had family income was below average (23,000 $) and average age was 17.7. A sizable increase in college attendance and persistence over the 3½–4 years following the intervention, 29% greater likelihood of attending college for two consecutive years. Approximately $90 per person to deliver the intervention, in 2012 dollars. $375 per person in federal need-based (“Pell”) grants for college.

Effective professional developmentEdit

For students' results to reflect these high effect-sizes, teachers need to develop the skills of their use. According to several studies,[18][19] the time taken to do this lies somewhere between the learning of new facts and the development of a musical or sporting skill. While facts can be learned with a few repetitions, skills may need several hundred hours to develop. The evidence is that teachers start to become skilled with a particular method after about 10 repetitions with improvement plateauing after 6 months to 2 years of use. Continuing professional development (CPD) needs to reflect these findings. Teaching staff need the opportunity to learn about and then practice these skills. The role of CPD managers is to ensure that the time is available and the process takes place, not to instruct the teachers to follow directions. Where staff self-select their training either from external providers or from a range of sessions on a training day, they do not have the chance to develop their skills. Training, development and discussion of a smaller list of high-effect-size methods will be more effective. This process is sometimes referred to as supported experimentation or peer mentoring.

Implications for teachersEdit

Teachers have more effect on the outcomes for their students than anyone else. The difference in outcomes for 2 teachers in the same college is significantly greater than the average of teachers in a "good" rather than a "weak" school. The main reason why some schools do better is that they have a higher percentage of teachers who use high effect-size methods. While individual teachers can improve their students' results using these methods in isolation, it is far more effective if they are adopted department or college-wide so that the discussions, observations and sharing-of-practice can take place easily.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Smolen, Paul; Zhang, Yili; Byrne, John H. (25 January 2016). "The right time to learn: mechanisms and optimization of spaced learning". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 17 (2): 77–88. arXiv:1606.08370. Bibcode:2016arXiv160608370S. doi:10.1038/nrn.2015.18. PMC 5126970. PMID 26806627.
  2. ^ "Human Memory: Theory and Practice", Alan D. Baddeley, 1997
  3. ^
  4. ^ B. Wilson (2009) Memory Rehabilitation: Integrating Theory and Practice, The Guilford Press, 284 pages.
  5. ^ Gazzaniga, Michael S.; Ivry, Richard B.; Mangun, George R. (2009). Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind (2nd ed.).
  6. ^ Kirchner, W. K. (1958). "Age differences in short-term retention of rapidly changing information". Journal of Experimental Psychology. 55 (4): 352–358. doi:10.1037/h0043688.
  7. ^ Jaeggi, S. M., Buschkuehl, M., Jonides, J., Perrig, W. J. (2008), Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 105 no. 19
  8. ^ Alexis Madrigal, Forget Brain Age: Researchers Develop Software That Makes You Smarter, Wired, April 2008
  9. ^ Moody, D. E. (2009). "Can intelligence be increased by training on a task of working memory?". Intelligence. 37 (4): 327–328. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2009.04.005.
  10. ^ a b Jaeggi, Susanne M.; Studer-Luethi, Barbara; Buschkuehl, Martin; Su, Yi-Fen; Jonides, John; Perrig, Walter J. (2010). "The relationship between n-back performance and matrix reasoning -- implications for training and transfer". Intelligence. 38 (6): 625–635. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2010.09.001. ISSN 0160-2896.
  11. ^ Jaeggi, Susanne; et al. (2011). "Short- and long-term benefits of cognitive training". PNAS. 108 (25): 10081–10086. Bibcode:2011PNAS..10810081J. doi:10.1073/pnas.1103228108. PMC 3121868. PMID 21670271.
  12. ^ Redick, T. S.; Shipstead, Z.; Harrison, T. L.; Hicks, K. L.; Fried, D. E.; Hambrick, D. Z.; Kane, M. J.; Engle, R. W. (2012). "No Evidence of Intelligence Improvement After Working Memory Training: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study". Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 142 (2): 359–379. doi:10.1037/a0029082. PMID 22708717.
  13. ^ Chooi, W. T.; Thompson, L. A. (2012). "Working memory training does not improve intelligence in healthy young adults". Intelligence. 40 (6): 531–542. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2012.07.004.
  14. ^ Au, Jacky; et al. (2014). "Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory: a meta-analysis" (PDF). Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 22 (2): 366–377. doi:10.3758/s13423-014-0699-x. PMID 25102926.
  15. ^ Bogg, Tim; Lasecki, Leanne (22 January 2015). "Reliable gains? Evidence for substantially underpowered designs in studies of working memory training transfer to fluid intelligence". Frontiers in Psychology. 5: 1589. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01589. PMC 4010796. PMID 25657629.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Joyce.B (2002) Student Achievement Through Staff Development ASCD
  19. ^ Helen Timperley et al (2007) Teacher Professional Learning and Development

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