Toward a Model of Learning and Transfer: A Review of Instructional Methods and Learning Outcomes in Special Education Teacher Preparation

Nov. 01, 2018

Source: Teacher Education and Special Education, Volume: 41 issue: 4, page(s): 292-307

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

To review and analyze the current literature related to special education teacher preparation, particularly in light of the demonstrated need for experimental research on effective instructional strategies that move teachers from knowledge to application, the authors developed a model of learning and transfer based on Bransford, Brown, and Cocking’s How People Learn (HPL) theoretical framework (National Research Council [NRC], 2000).
This model represents hierarchical measures of learning outcomes within teacher preparation.
They assert that the purpose of this literature review was to examine experimental studies of instructional methods delivered primarily within coursework to measure PSTs’ outcomes at increasingly deeper levels of learning and transfer as defined by this framework, highlighting effective practices in special education teacher preparation, as well as substantiating the need for further inquiry.

Search criteria for this review were limited to English-language articles published in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals since 2006.
The last search for articles was conducted in July 2016. This search returned 805 articles.
The purpose of these criteria was to narrow the focus to studies within university coursework, grounded in experimental design, and focusing on higher levels within the theoretical framework of HPL, given the need for evidence in this specific area of special education personnel preparation. With these criteria applied to titles, abstracts, and full texts of articles, 12 studies were included in this review.

Results & Discussion
The purpose of this literature review as undertaken by the authors was to examine experimental research measuring PSTs’ outcomes at increasingly deeper levels of learning and transfer, while examining specific instructional methods delivered within university coursework. They report that with the exception of one study, all instructional methods led to significant and positive learning gains.
Of the studies that reported effect sizes, most indicated strong effects of instructional methods, with remaining findings indicating moderate effects.
They found that results further solidify the importance of quality teacher preparation coursework, while validating the effectiveness of several types of instructional strategies: case-based instruction, content acquisition podcasts (CAPs), embedding evidence based practices (EBPs) within coursework and practice with students, engagement strategies, and using an online module.
Overall, the findings of the authors’ review indicate a strong need for more experimental research on instructional methods related specifically to special education PSTs.
They identified only 12 university classroom-based experimental studies directly measuring knowledge and application (as opposed to perceived knowledge) that included a majority of special education participants.
A need for more research at deeper levels of learning was also identified. Few studies examined the effectiveness of instructional methods on application for classroom settings, and those that did only demonstrated improved learning outcomes within groups or when comparison conditions offered no instruction.

Implications for Teacher Preparation Programs and Teacher Educators
As a result of their review the authors note that teacher preparation programs must shift the emphasis to application for and within classroom settings, moving toward a practice-based and applied approach to teacher preparation.
The authors conclude that since ultimately, the goal of preparation programs is to produce teachers who effectively improve students’ outcomes, measures of student performance must become the focus of future research. In other words, does application of knowledge lead to the development and use of skills that then lead to changes in students’ academic and behavioral outcomes?

National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school: Expanded edition (J. D. Bransford, A. L. Brown, & R. R. Cocking, Eds.). Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 

Updated: Jul. 29, 2019