Monday, December 10, 2007

Does psychology research really help education?

TLDR: probably not

My intuition is that carefully done psychology research into memory/learning/skill transfer hasn't yielded too many new insights into the educational process. I think over the hundreds/thousands of years that humans have been practicing formal education, people have probably figured out what methods yield the best results. (at least as far as standardized testing is concerned)

I think the modern view of education is slightly different. Given the present rate of technological innovation and its impact on society (the internet's effect on information retrieval), I think there are some good examples of how people have both been able to take advantage of modern technology, as well as people who haven't. (e.g. the failure of the music industry to combat p2p piracy. from what I can see, the anime industry is suffering the same problem.) I'm wondering though if the inability of people to be flexible problem solvers stems from some form of extreme functional fixedness.

It does serve as an alternate explanation to why TSA is such an ass when their security rules don't even make sense. My other hypothesis is the so-called "cover your ass" security option: in the unlikely event that you let someone carry on a bottle of liquid that IS actually a bomb, you're screwed. That hypothesis does require that the individuals are performing that analysis, perhaps intuitively if not consciously.

I mean, do you really think the majority of TSA screeners think they are actually preventing terrorism? My guess would be that they just blindly follow authority (possibly out of functional fixedness) and don't make decisions for themselves.

But going back to education for the moment, if we do want to propose a vast change in the educational system (i.e. deep learning, analogical reasoning, problem solving, research skills, metacognition), you would want both evidence that it works, and tons of funding. Longitudinal studies are hard to do to begin with, and who would really trust you to use completely different teaching methods on their kids? Even with pilot data, it would seem unfeasible. And pilot data is probably worthless since the dependent measure is probably standardized testing and not real-world flexibility. Unless you used various IQ measures. *shrug*

Oh yeah, you would also need to train a whole new batch of teachers and give them the pay and respect they deserve. Good luck getting that accomplished.



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