At the "Better Connecting Research Evidence and Product Innovation" session at the 2013 SIIA Ed Tech Industry Summit, three directors and a VP--all from SRI International--gathered to discuss findings around how to gather evidence and data to support research on the efficacy of online programs. The discussion touched upon some of the points raised in the recent U.S. Dept. of Ed.'s policy report, "Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in A Digital World." (Be sure to check out EdSurge contributor Andrew Plemmons Pratt's three-part summary.)
The panel's general message could be summed up along the lines of:
"Hold your horses! There's plenty of data--but we're not sure what this all means without context and framework."
While that may be a bit disappointing (don't we always expect scientists to have the answers?), we respect the urge for patience and caution.
Robert Murphy, SRI's Evaluation Program Director, believed it may be more prudent to re-frame the research agenda away from 'efficacy' studies. "Implementation research should be the focus at this stage," he asserted. "The question 'Does it work?' when the 'it' is still being defined and changing year from year is a little bit off the mark."
Indeed, the outcomes from online programs depend on the context and extent to which they are deployed. How is the class set up? Are teachers properly trained? What are their expectations for these tools? How are they designing their teaching around them?
Murphy's call to shift the focus towards implementation was based on his observations at schools like Alliance, Rocketship, FirstLine, KIPP EA, and Summit, all early adopters of blended learning programs:
The overall takeaway? The blended learning experiment continues.