Evidence for Learning: Key research and evidence terms

Key research and evidence terms

Learn more about key research and evidence terms

The phrases evidence-based” and evidence-informed” are becoming increasingly prevalent in education circles. But how do you know what to look for in order to determine if these claims are accurate?

Recently, our partners at the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in the UK collaborated with Tes Magazine to release the Tes explains” series.

The series includes short articles that explain key education research terminology and provide guidance on identifying robust evidence sources.

E4L has curated a selection of these articles in order to help Australian educators use education research and critically assess the evidence underlying a given approach. These curated articles are useful for educators who wish to strengthen their understanding of research methods, processes and outcomes to support their professional judgment and decision making.

This page provides a brief overview of each term, and links to the correlating article where you can find more detail. This page will evolve over time, so please get in touch with any suggestions.

A randomised controlled trial (RCT) is an experiment in which candidates are randomly assigned to one of two groups. The experimental group receives the intervention being tested while the other receives an alternative, or no intervention at all (for the time period under study). The two groups are then compared to see if there are any differences in outcome.

E4L has completed three RCTs

Learn more about RCTs.

In a systematic review, researchers summarise all the research on a particular topic that meets pre-defined eligibility criteria, in order to answer a specific research question. A systematic review can also be combined with meta-analysis.

This type of research review gives an objective overview of the evidence on a particular topic or question.

E4L has done a number of systematic reviews, which include student health and wellbeing and supporting rich conversations in early childhood education. Systematic reviews also underpin the approaches in the ECE Toolkit and the Teaching & Learning Toolkit.

Learn more about systematic reviews.

In a meta-analysis, researchers combine the results of multiple studies to calculate an overall effect. This involves more than just pooling data from studies together – the process uses established statistical methods to account for differences in sample size, variability and findings.

Combining the results from several studies in this way can be helpful when it comes to investigating the average effectiveness of a particular teaching and learning approach. If you’re using meta-analyses to support decision making, it’s important to look beyond the average and consider the diversity of results.

Learn more about meta-analyses

A cohort study is a type of longitudinal study that follows participants who share a common characteristic over a period of time, often for many years.

Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children
is an Australian example of a cohort study.

Learn more about cohort studies

Peer review is used in academic research as a form of quality control. Research papers are sent to other experts in the field, who scrutinise the work and ensure that the findings are original, valid and high quality.

Learn more about peer reviews.

An effect size is a simple way of presenting the difference between two groups of pupils, usually one that has received a particular teaching and learning approach and another that hasn’t. When something has had an impact on learning, the effect can be measured and expressed as a number. Effect sizes are standardised measures that translate impacts from different outcomes into a numerical value that can allow for impacts to be compared with each other or combined in a meta-analysis.

In our Toolkits and randomised control trials, E4L converts effect sizes to months of progress, to help schools interpret the potential impact that a particular approach could have (noting that there are nuances that sit behind a standardised effect).

Learn more about effect size.

When researchers analyse evidence, they look at outcome measures. For primary research, this will be raw data collected from a new trial, whereas in a systematic review, this will be outcome data from pre-existing studies.

In both cases, the researchers will work to translate these outcome measures to interpret the data and draw conclusions, making caveats where there are important limitations or discussing whether the results corroborate previous research.

E4L research trials and systematic reviews involve pre-specification – which is when researchers publish a protocol in advance of any data analysis to explain how the data will be analysed ahead of time. This helps to mitigate the risk of prioritising only positive results in the analysis.

Learn more about how researchers analyse data

Research studies are carried out for various reasons. Some are conducted in an academic setting, either for publication in an academic journal or as part of a PhD. Research can also be commissioned by third parties, such as governments, a company, a charity or other non-governmental organisation.

The way research is commissioned is likely to be influenced by the aims and budget of the organisation.

Learn more about how research is commissioned

All research has a cost, and most studies can only be carried out with the support of grants from funding councils, government bodies, private companies or non-profit organisations.

This doesn’t mean that the results of those studies cannot be trusted. However, it is crucial to consider the independence and transparency of research – and the interests of the sponsors – when interpreting results. These considerations include whether the study methods are pre-specified, all results are published, an independent peer review process is used and or data is made available for replication.

E4L is an independent not-for-profit and all E4L research is completed by independent research teams from E4L’s evaluation panel, according to E4L’s values and informed by E4L’s and the EEF’s evaluation and peer review processes.

Learn more about research and sponsors

Research gets published via several different routes. One of the most common is through an academic journal, which involves authors submitting their manuscript to an editor, who then determines whether the article will be reviewed by the editorial board or external reviewers. There are time and accessibility challenges in relation to academic journal publications.

Research funders, think-tanks and non-profits, such as E4L, will often commission and publish findings outside of academia. Often these are free to access and written in more accessible language.

Learn more about how research is published