To avoid any misunderstanding I will point out from the beginning that I am positive about several aspects of Learning Studies (these are described in more detail below). However, it is my conviction that knowledge development is best done by looking at arguments for and against different theories and approaches.
Learning Stuies is beginning to gain an increasingly prominent position in school research, which is another reason to shed light on it. Therefore, I will raise a number of critical questions about Learning Studies, for the sake of simplicity hereinafter referred to as LS.
LS was developed from what is called the Lesson Study, which is a way of developing classroom work that emerged among teachers in Japan and China. The Lesson Study received attention when international comparisons showed that Japanese students understood teaching content significantly better than, for example, students in the United States.
The big difference between LS and Lesson Study is that in LS the importance of theory is highlighted and the teacher's knowledge assignment is put into focus. Slightly simplified, a cyclical process is used in LS. To start with the students' initial understanding of a phenomenon is mapped (eg fractions in mathematics), teaching is planned, evaluated, refined and so on.
I have repeatedly in this blog argued for the need for didactic research that is based on the teacher's assignment, so-called assignment-relevant research. I really like the focus on teachers' work in LS or perhaps rather on what is a completely central aspect of this work, namely teaching of knowledge content. What does the teacher need to do for the students to understand a certain object of knowledge? is a recurring and absolutely central issue in LS.
Another aspect of LS that I really think is fruitful is its focus on theorizing. It is important to create theories about how the learning of a certain knowledge content takes place. In this way, the pedagogical / didactic theory is also linked to practice. There is something very Deweyian about this way of thinking. Practice is the ultimate test of whether a theory works. Or as Kurt Lewin said: "Nothing is as practical as a good theory".
Furthermore, just as in phenomenography, attention is paid to the student's understanding of the object of knowledge, and in LS this understanding is put in relation to how the object of knowledge appears in the teaching. That the focus is on the student's understanding is crucial if we are to understand how a teaching can be developed.
Furthermore, LS partially abolishes the boundary between educational practice and research. It is largely research that is developed for the benefit of teachers. . It is also the case that many active researchers within LS are former teachers. But what happens when we put a critical light on LS?
Some critical questions for LS
Teaching in schools can be developed in many different ways, for example through the preparation of new teaching materials, through better teacher education, through working methods other than LS, through the preparation of lesson plans (and aggregation of such in databases) or through analysis of how good teachers work.
I often refer to a study of the effectiveness of an entire teaching program called Hot Math where the researchers achieved some fantastic outcomes. They did not use LS, but how do their approach compare to LS?
My first critical question is thus: Why is the outcome in studies within LS not systematically compared with the outcome of other working methods? It is a fact that the effect of many of these other working methods has been studied to a much greater extent than is the case with LS. The question becomes no less relevant because LS is very resource-intensive.
A problem that applies to all so-called intervention research is also the difficulty of showing longitudinal effects for students. Since LS is a form of intervention study, I wonder what longitudinal effects in students can be demonstrated based on the working method? I have searched for such information but have not found it.
Several representatives of LS would probably claim that it is the teacher's didactic ability, rather than students' performance, that is in focus for LS. In that case, it must be shown that the teachers' didactic ability develops (in addition to the didactic problem of the LS in which they participate). Will teachers participating in a Learning Study become better at analyzing new didactic problems?
A third closely related critical question is the following: What research shows that the working method in LS is effective when transferred to new environments? Or is it considered that it is not transferable without each teacher having to participate in a LS with participating researchers in order to be able to use the working method?
The fourth and perhaps the most important question concerns what happens to the schools` broad mission in LS. Of several assignments that can be discerned for schooling (such as the development of an enjoyment for learning, preparation for citizenship, development of virtues etc) LS focuses as I understand it exclusively on the knowledge assignment. This assignment is central, but what happens to the schools´ other assignments, should not the teachers work with them? The exclusive focus on the knowledge assignment rhymes well with ideas within New Public Management.
A final fifth critical question that I unfortunately do not really have the space to develop here concerns theory development. Variation theory, which is a prominent theory formation within LS, at least in Sweden, seems to be a somewhat limited way of looking at knowledge development, although it also puts the finger on the importance to identify critical aspects of what is to be taught and that the ability to see similarities and differences is important in all learning.
But metaphors and perspectives are also important fundamentals in learning and so is the context of learning. I do not think these aspects seem to be covered by variation theory. Furthermore, a focus on the broader assignment leads to the need to develop a teaching theory that deals with how this broader assignment, rather than the knowledge assignment alone, is to be achieved,
However, I seems that LS is not necessarily limited to variation theory, which I think sounds promising.
A final word
The best should not become an enemy of what is quite good. As I wrote in the introduction, I see LS as something that has the potential to drive knowledge in the educational field further. In order for me to be convinced of this I want better answers to my questions than the ones I have received so far:
1. How do we know that LS works better than other interventions?
2. How do we know that LS gives rise to change in the long run (in students and teachers, respectively)?
3. Does LS work when used by teachers who are not part of a LS study?
4. What happens to the broad mission in LS?
5. What type of theories need to be developed?