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Is a move to evidence-based teaching practice feasible at this time?

Prepared by John Church, PhD, School of Educational Studies and Human Development

University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

It is increasingly being argued that “teaching should be based on research” (e.g. Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Kameenui, Carnine, Dixon, Simmons & Coyne, 2002). However, education researchers sometimes ask cause and effect questions and sometimes do not, sometimes use an appropriate research method to examine questions about learning and teaching and sometimes do not, and sometimes collect believable data about the effects of teaching on learning and sometimes do not. This variability in the research methods which are being used to study learning and teaching gives rise to all sorts of methodological debates and all sorts of questions about whether a move to evidence-based teaching practice is feasible at this time. In this chapter we examine some of these questions from the point of view of what has, and has not, been achieved to date.

In Section 1 we examine the questions about the extent to which education researchers are selecting appropriate research methods – appropriate in the sense that they could conceivably answer the question which is being asked.

In Section 2 we ask whether the move to evidence based practice should be based on the entire corpus of research into learning and teaching or just the scientific research and identify some of the characteristics which research would need to meet before it could be said to support a move to evidence based practice.

In Section 3 we discuss the question of how much research evidence would be needed to justify a move from a particular craft-based practice to an evidence-based version of that practice.

Section 4 addresses the question of whether our discoveries to date are sufficient to justify a move to evidence-based teaching practice in certain areas.

Section 5 asks what progress, if any, has been made in developing an empirical theory of the conditions necessary in order for various kinds of learning to occur.


  • Darling-Hammond, L. & Bransford, J. (Eds.). (2005). Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Kameenui, E. J., Carnine, D. W., Dixon, R. C., Simmons, D. C., & Coyne, M. D. (2002). Effective teaching strategies that accommodate diverse learners (2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill.