Rigorous and Socially Responsible Interactive Learning Research

Thomas C. Reeves. Ph.D.
The University of Georgia

The Journal of Interactive Learning Research debuts when the need for rigorous and socially responsible research into the design, implementation, effectiveness, and impact of the interactive learning is paramount. In a recent cover story in The Atlantic Monthly, Oppenheimer (1997) begins “There is no evidence that most uses of computers significantly improve teaching and learning….” (p. 45), and claims that computers threaten to diminish the reading, writing, and self-expression skills of students while at the same time crushing their imaginations and stunting their socialization. Although this particular attack on interactive learning is limited to the USA, similar critiques have appeared in other countries where large investments have been made in interactive learning systems for education and training.

Despite the polemical nature of such critiques, the interactive learning research community must face the reality that our efforts have failed to provide adequate guidance for developers and practitioners. Others already recognize this inadequacy. In March 1997, the U.S. President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology called for “a large-scale program of rigorous, systematic research on education in general and educational technology in particular….to ensure both the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of technology use within our nation’s schools” (p. 6).

To provide guidance for real world practice, research must be both rigorous and socially responsible. Rigor involves adherence to the basic principles of science that all researchers must follow, regardless of specific methodological preferences. These include the application of logical procedures that other researchers can apply and an openness to peer review. Scientific paradigms differ with respect to assumptions about the nature of reality and the values placed on different methods of inquiry, but few serious researchers question the fundamental pillars of logical processes, verifiability, and peer review.

Social responsibility, on the other hand, is an issue open to debate. Some researchers maintain that socially responsible research must directly address problems that detract from the quality of life for individuals and groups in society whereas others suggest that all interactive learning research is socially responsible simply because it deals with questions of how people learn and perform. Others claim that concern for social responsibility is misplaced, arguing that the goal of research is knowledge in and of itself, and that whether research is socially responsible is a question that lies outside the bounds of science.

This debate has raged for decades among educational researchers. For example, as reported by Farley (1982), Gage, a past president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), asserted that the goal of basic research in education is simply “more valid and more positive conclusions” (p. 12) whereas another past president of AERA, Ebel, proclaimed that “the value of basic research in education is severely limited” (p. 18). More recently, Gage argued for more basic research that would be yield “models at a level of validity and detail that will come closer to the standards set by theories in the natural sciences” (p. 19), whereas Scriven, yet another AERA past president, stated that the educational research community “has almost entirely failed to discharge its principal duty to the society that supports it. That duty….is to identify educational best practice and improve it” (pp. 19-20) (Cooley, Gage, & Scriven, 1997).

There is insufficient room in this brief introduction to examine adequately all the issues concerning the rigor and social relevance of interactive learning research. However, the following editorial policy can be stated. As guided by the distinguished members of our Editorial Review Board, the Editors of this journal shall strive to ensure that the research published herein meets the highest standards for both scientific rigor and social responsibility. As described in Reeves (1997), this journal will also publish other types of scholarly works, including “viewpoint” papers, some of which may present different perspectives regarding issues of rigor and social value. This debate is an important one that must be continued in these pages as well as in other research forums.


Cooley, W.W., Gage, N. L., & Scriven, M. (1982). “The vision thing”: Educational research and AERA in the 21st Century. Educational Researcher, 26(4), 18-21.

Farley, F. H. (1982). The future of educational research. Educational Researcher, 11(8), 11-19.

Oppenheimer, T. (1997, July). The computer delusion. The Atlantic Monthly, 280(1), 45-62.

Reeves, T. C. (1997, Summer). Introducing the scope and sequence of the Journal of Interactive Learning Research. Educational Technology Review, 7, 5-8.