Dylan Wiliam

Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment, University College London


How is educational research supposed to improve education?

For almost as long as people have been conducting research in education, there have been complaints that educational research does not provide reliable guidance about how to improve educational processes. For some, this is because educational researchers have selfishly focused on their own esoteric interests and what is needed is a focus on “what works” in classrooms. For others, the way forward is to involve teachers in their own “action research” where they pursue inquiries directly relevant to their own practice. In this session, I will argue that neither of these approaches is likely to be fruitful. Instead, I will suggest that teachers, administrators, and school board members need to engage with educational research so that they can ensure that their efforts at improvement are likely to be targeted effectively, but also need to accept that educational research will never tell teachers what to do—their classrooms are too complex for this ever to be possible. What is needed, instead, is for educators to become “critical consumers” of educational research; aware of what the research says, but also aware of when even well-established research findings are likely to fail to apply in a particular setting. In addition, it is important to realize that when educators use research to guide their efforts at improvement, this is not a process of simply following a recipe provided by researchers but rather a process of knowledge creation, albeit of a distinct and local kind.


Dylan Wiliam is Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at University College London. In a varied career, he has taught in urban public schools, directed a large-scale testing program, served a number of roles in university administration, including Dean of a School of Education, and pursued a research program focused on supporting teachers to develop their use of assessment in support of learning.


Creating the schools our children need: Why what we’re doing right now won’t help much, and what we can do instead

Each year, over half a million American students leave school without the literacy they need to participate effectively in society, and over 700,000 school leavers lack the math skills they need to make even the most basic financial decisions. Moreover, as the world of work becomes more complex, all workers will need higher and higher levels of education to find meaningful and fulfilling employment. There is, predictably, no shortage of solutions being offered to address this challenge, such as copying other countries, firing bad teachers, paying good teachers more, getting smarter people into teaching, and expanding school choice. Unfortunately, even if these measures are as successful as their most ardent proponents claim, the impact on student achievement will be small. When we take into account the cost of potential reforms, the likely impact on student achievement, and the feasibility of implementation, two reform measures stand out as clearly superior to other measures being advocated. First, our curricula need to reflect that expertise in most areas of human endeavor is due to knowledge, rather than skill. Second, we need to create a culture in which teachers work continually to make their teaching more responsive to their students’ needs. These two measures can be implemented without additional cost, and have the potential to completely transform our schools, and the educational outcomes of young people.

Why teaching isn’t—and probably never will be—a research-based profession – The idea that teaching should be based on the best available research evidence about what helps students learn most effectively is attractive; perhaps even obvious. Educational research is frequently compared unfavorably with research in medicine and, particularly in recent years, policymakers have criticized academics for failing to address issues of practical relevance and have sought to discover “what works” in education, especially by examining characteristics of education systems in countries that perform well in international comparisons such as TIMSS, PISA and IALS. In this talk, Dylan Wiliam will argue that because of the nature of educational processes, research will never be able to provide practitioners with reliable guides for action. Rather “putting research into practice” involves teachers in the creation of new kinds of knowledge, albeit of a distinct and local kind.