What is evidence-based teaching?
Like medicine and other evidence-based fields, teaching and learning has a large body of evidence that informs practice. This evidence is important because it tells us how and under what conditions students actually learn, just as medical research informs practices to improve patient outcomes. But as in other evidence-based fields, the language of teaching and learning can seem obscure to non-specialists. In the pages that follow, we aim to provide a bridge between the evidence and the practical teaching strategies that we recommend. Rather than providing a comprehensive list, we focus on a few evidence-based teaching strategies to help instructors get started or develop their teaching. In many cases, these strategies provide additional evidence and explanation for the variety of teaching resources that we already describe on our website. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about these strategies or about teaching approaches that we don’t discuss in these webpages.
Who is doing this research?
Over a century of research in the fields of education, psychology, and sociology have demonstrated the ways in which students learn—from cognitive psychology to the role of social engagement in the learning process (see, for example, Bloom, 1956; Piaget, 1970; Vygotsky, 1978; Lovett, et. al, 2023). Just as significantly, instructors like you from across the disciplines contribute to the research that informs today’s teaching and learning practices by reporting on findings from their own courses. Many universities, including IU Bloomington, have consultants who work closely with instructors engaged in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Discipline-based educational researchers (DBER) do this work within their specific STEM disciplines. Lastly, we also see research in K-12 settings that informs the research that is conducted in higher education settings and vice versa. In fact, the strategies that we recommend also work in K-12 settings, and many of our students will have experienced learning with these methods. As a result, employing these strategies in higher education can ease students’ transition to college-level work and help all students succeed.
What counts as evidence?
The strategies that we recommend are supported by extensive evidence. In some cases, that evidence is the result of decades of empirical studies that rely on formal experimentation, while other evidence may come from course-level studies of the effectiveness of a particular teaching strategy. Depending on the discipline and context, this evidence may be quantitative or qualitative in nature. In the best cases, evidence in support of a teaching strategy has emerged from a combination of studies over the course of time and in different educational settings and disciplines. Some of the evidence for effectiveness is based on such direct measures as improvement in performance on objective tests and quizzes. However, we also include such indirect measures as motivation, self-confidence, sense of belonging, mindset changes, anxiety measures, and critical reflections by instructors. All of the strategies that we recommend have been successfully implemented at IU Bloomington
The following list includes some of the most commonly used evidence-based teaching approaches that span disciplinary contexts and class sizes. This list will be expanded over time.
TILT is a format for structuring assignments that provides details students need to succeed. This easily implemented approach has significant evidence for its improvement of student learning, particularly for students from underserved populations.
Spaced (or distributed) practice refers to learning that takes place over time with rest periods between practice sessions. Structuring your course around this concept can improve student performance and their study practices.
Providing timely and ongoing feedback on student performance can improve student learning, particularly when that feedback is structured in ways that research has shown to best reinforce and guide student learning.
- Active Learning
- Developing Metacognitive Skills
- Growth Mindset
If you want to learn more about evidence-based teaching in general, we recommend How Learning Works: Eight Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching and the Teaching for Student Success modules developed by a team of IU experts on teaching and learning.