Closing the 2 Sigma Gap

Tuesday, 15. January 2013

Banjamin Bloom, probably best known for Bloom’s Taxonomy, contributed significant research and theory on other educational topics, including the effects of tutoring on student achievement. In 1984, Bloom wrote an article titled The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring. Bloom found that one-on-one tutoring moved students two standard deviations above the mean on achievement measures when compared with conventional approaches to instruction. My first response to this claim was “of course one-to-one tutoring is more effective in comparison to traditional settings.”

2 Sigma

However, an important feature of Bloom’s research is whether teachers in conventional classrooms can replicate characteristics of one-on-one tutoring. Bloom proposed investigating five areas to answer this question, including

  • Improve student processing of conventional instruction
  • Improve organization of instructional materials
  • Facilitate positive peer interactions
  • Improve teaching by providing attention to all students
  • Integrate higher mental processes

A variety of educational research has been produced, showing effective practices in each area, from the effects of feedback to engaging students metacognitive reflection.

Additional solutions are emerging from instructional technology. One of the newest of these is an “adaptive learning system that supports personalized learning” (Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, 2013). Adaptive learning systems adjust according to a student’s response to information gathered across learning experiences.

Two examples of adaptive learning systems include Wayang Outpost, a tutoring system for geometry and statistics developed at the  University of Massachusetts, and a digital tutor to train information technology specialists in the U.S. Navy developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.