Reflections on experimental research in medical education

David A. Cook, Thomas J. Beckman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)455-464
Number of pages10
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010


  • Curriculum
  • Experiment
  • Medical education
  • Research design
  • Research methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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