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What is education research?

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Reviewed by Pamela M. Roggeman, EdD, Dean, College of Education

At a glance

Education research is a scientific field of study that explores the processes of education and learning, and the ways people and institutions affect educational outcomes. It plays a vital role in understanding how learning takes place throughout a person’s life, from formal to informal contexts.

Those who practice education research rely on rigorous methods to answer their questions and drive the development of new tools and techniques. This work is often conducted in classrooms, in education-related industries and through research centers.

This data and understanding are crucial to designing and building successful education systems and informing education policies locally and nationally. For this reason, education researchers are highly sought in many countries.

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What is education research?

Education research is the investigation of education processes, systems and policies from various perspectives. It involves collecting data from scholarly sources (e.g., students, teachers, administrators), analyzing it to understand phenomena, and synthesizing findings into knowledge about education practices and policies.

This research can provide insight to how learning takes place in various contexts and inform decisions that affect education outcomes for individuals, groups and societies.

Those who practice education research may use theories from various disciplines while studying a topic. Theories can serve as a lens to filter data (e.g., connectivism) or as a basis for methodology. The theories may come from different fields of study altogether, including:

  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Economics
  • Political science

For education research to be successful, researchers must ensure that their aims, methods and results are soundly connected to a strong conception of human well-being. Ultimately, academic research should aspire to contribute positively to the educational success of individuals, groups and societies.

How education research is used

Education research analyzes data and provides insights on topics such as:

To work on such concepts, various methodology options are available, such as:

  • Qualitative research, like case studies, ethnography, phenomenological, narrative and historical.
  • Quantitative research, like descriptive surveys, experimental, single-subject, causal-comparative, correlational and meta-analysis.

Combination methods can also be used to gain a more comprehensive perspective on education research contexts. Education researchers can work on projects with other professionals or independently.

The findings from such research can contribute to the improvement of education practices, policies and outcomes. Educators and curriculum developers use this information to make decisions to enhance the overall quality of education.

Through the insights gained from research, stakeholders in education can adapt and implement strategies to address challenges, optimize learning environments and promote better learning outcomes for students.

Expertise needed for education research

Education researchers must have a deep understanding of the science behind learning and the ability to apply this knowledge in practical ways. Their expertise should include the following:

  • Theories of learning: They should have a strong working knowledge of theories related to learning, such as constructivism, behaviorism and connectivism theories. They need to understand how such theories inform teaching methods and can shape student success.
  • Applied psychology: Since education is closely connected to psychology, researchers must integrate knowledge from psychology into their work. This includes cognitive development, motivation, assessment and other topics relevant to learning.
  • Education technology: Technology plays an increasingly important role in education research. This includes understanding how technology may be used for teaching and assessment and being aware of ethical implications of using technology in education.

With a strong grasp of theories, researchers can make decisions that affect education outcomes for individuals, groups and whole societies.

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Roles that use education research

Curriculum directors and instructional designers play crucial roles in shaping education experiences. They may use education research in the following ways:

1.      Informed decision-making: Curriculum directors can use evidence-based insights into effective teaching and learning strategies to make decisions about which instructional approaches, materials and methodologies are most likely to benefit students.

2.      Curriculum development: Instructional designers can incorporate evidence-based strategies to guide the development of curricula that align with the latest education theories and practices, creating engaging and effective learning materials that cater to diverse student needs.

3.      Alignment with standards: Curriculum directors and instructional designers can use research to verify that their materials and instructional methods align with education standards and objectives to support the achievement of desired learning outcomes.

4.      Professional development: Curriculum directors can use research findings to inform the design of professional development programs for teachers. The most effective training methods can be identified to support educators in implementing innovative and evidence-based practices.

5.      Assessment and evaluation: Curriculum directors and instructional designers can use research in the development of valid and reliable assessment tools to accurately measure student learning and provide meaningful feedback to both students and educators.

6.      Adaptation to diverse learners: Education research often explores strategies for accommodating diverse learning styles and needs. Curriculum directors and instructional designers can use this information to develop materials and approaches that cater to a broad range of students, fostering inclusivity and equity in education.

7.      Technology integration: Research findings on the effective use of technology in education can guide instructional designers in integrating relevant and impactful technological tools into the curriculum, enhancing the overall learning experience.

8.      Continuous improvement: Curriculum directors and instructional designers can engage in a continuous improvement cycle by staying updated on the latest research. This allows them to refine and adapt materials and strategies based on emerging evidence and best practices.

Education research serves as a valuable resource that empowers curriculum directors and instructional designers to create, adapt and implement programs that are both effective and responsive to the evolving needs of students.

Education programs at University of Phoenix

If a career that uses education research interests you, you might consider becoming a curriculum director or an instructional designer. There are online education programs that specialize in this field, where you can learn how to analyze data to make decisions to improve instructional programs.

For example, UOPX offers a Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum and Instruction. In this program, courses teach theories and best practices of curriculum and instruction, assessment and evaluation models, research for improved practice, and more.

Learn more about online education degrees and certificates and the skills taught in this field through University of Phoenix.

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A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and its Writing Seminars program and winner of the Stephen A. Dixon Literary Prize, Michael Feder brings an eye for detail and a passion for research to every article he writes. His academic and professional background includes experience in marketing, content development, script writing and SEO. Today, he works as a multimedia specialist at University of Phoenix where he covers a variety of topics ranging from healthcare to IT.


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