By Jonathan Wai
When you want to improve your physical health, you don’t have to eat one specific type of food or exercise in a specific way. Rather, you need an appropriate mix of healthy foods and exercise -- no one thing is required. Different types of exercise and foods are in some sense interchangeable. What matters is that you get the appropriate dose.
Could this common idea from health translate into the world of education?
Consider the cases of two hypothetical students, Suzie and Greg. Suzie goes to a summer science camp every year, she gets lost in Wikipedia for hours after school, competes in chess tournaments, and overall is engaged at school. Greg enjoys being home-schooled, regularly uses Khan Academy, walks to the library to read books, and recently joined a club that builds remote control helicopters. Although involved in very different activities, they are both intellectually stimulated, and that is the key. They each have an appropriate educational dose.
In a research collaboration with David Lubinski, Camilla Benbow, and James Steiger, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, we conceptualized education as a dose concept. Each different type of pre-college educational opportunity was summed to determine the dose level. For example, Suzie and Greg are both involved in four learning opportunities, so they each have a dose level of four. Our study focused on STEM learning opportunities and outcomes. From a sample of 1,467 academically advanced students, we formed two groups: those with a relatively higher educational dose and those with a relatively lower educational dose. We then compared these two groups on their STEM outcomes 25 years later — PhDs, publications, university tenure, patents, and occupations. The higher dose group was significantly more likely to earn each of these outcomes than the lower dose group. First, this study suggests a higher educational dose may be beneficial for real-world achievements. Second, it may not be any one educational intervention, but an appropriate dose of different educational experiences that matter.