Reflections on experimental research in medical education

Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2010 Aug;15(3):455-64. doi: 10.1007/s10459-008-9117-3. Epub 2008 Apr 22.


As medical education research advances, it is important that education researchers employ rigorous methods for conducting and reporting their investigations. In this article we discuss several important yet oft neglected issues in designing experimental research in education. First, randomization controls for only a subset of possible confounders. Second, the posttest-only design is inherently stronger than the pretest-posttest design, provided the study is randomized and the sample is sufficiently large. Third, demonstrating the superiority of an educational intervention in comparison to no intervention does little to advance the art and science of education. Fourth, comparisons involving multifactorial interventions are hopelessly confounded, have limited application to new settings, and do little to advance our understanding of education. Fifth, single-group pretest-posttest studies are susceptible to numerous validity threats. Finally, educational interventions (including the comparison group) must be described in detail sufficient to allow replication.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / methods*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Research Design*
  • Teaching / methods*