Using Design-Based Research in Higher Education Innovation

Cristi Ford, Darragh McNally, Kate Ford


This paper discusses the design-based research approach used by the Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success at the University of Maryland (CILSS), University College. CILSS is a laboratory for conducting applied research that focuses on continuous improvements to the university's instruction of curriculum, learning models, and student support to identify promising innovations for underserved populations in adult higher education; to drive adoption of next-generation transformational online learning; to develop new educational models based on learning science, cutting edge technology, and improved instructional methods; to help more UMUC adult students succeed by increasing retention and graduating more students in shorter time frames (thus reducing their costs). As such, leveraging technology and pedagogy in innovative ways is key to the Center's work. CILSS serves as the research and development arm for the university, promoting innovative ideas and breakthroughs in learning.


The paper details one interpretation of design-based research (DBR) and how it can be applied by an innovation center working within a university for program evaluation. This paper also posits that the conceptual framework and assumptions of andragogy (Knowles, 1984) has applicable relevance to the instructional shifts that include adaptive learning in the curriculum. A review of the literature on DBR explores the central features of this approach. A review of andragogy as the conceptual framework for this paper highlights what we believe to be the central features of the evaluation approach of adaptive learning software. We then present the model used by CILSS when designing and testing a pilot project. To illustrate the approach, we provide the example of a recent pilot that uses the adaptive learning software RealizeIt in UMUC’s Principles of Accounting I course, a course that traditionally has lower than average success rates.


Design Based Research; Innovation; Continuous Improvement; Adaptive Learning; Evaluation; Adult Learners

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