Future Research

Considerations for Future Research

To build on the research base collected in ArtsEdSearch and to address some of its limitations, ArtsEdSearch offers the following considerations for future arts education research:

  • Standardized Achievement Measures. Many researchers examining the impacts of arts education on students’ overall academic development suggest that state and local assessments in frequently-tested subjects like mathematics and English language arts have traditionally not assessed thinking skills and capacities key to academic success or students’ preparation for future learning. They hypothesize—because research has found that the arts develop many of these key thinking skills and capacities—that these assessments, which they often used as a proxy for academic achievement, may not capture the impact of arts training on students’ overall academic success. Future research may address this limitation of prior research by using new forms of assessment being developed to assess student learning against common core standards. These assessments are more explicitly designed to assess students’ thinking and reasoning skills, ability to apply learning to real-life problems, and preparation for future learning.
  • The “Arts Learning” Variable. Both quantitative and qualitative studies often lack sufficient specificity in their description of the arts learning experience or “variable” under study. Many, for example, compare the relative “numbers of hours” students spend in arts learning, but do not elaborate on the type, quality, intensity or context of the arts learning experience students receive in those hours. Such studies may hide the variation in outcomes associated with different art forms. They may also underestimate the developmental impacts of rigorous, high quality arts programs on students by lumping such programs together with less rigorous, lower quality ones and assessing their aggregate impact. Studies that have parsed outcomes in relationship to the quality and intensity of the arts learning experience indeed, not surprisingly, suggest that the greater the quality and consistency of the arts or arts-integrated instruction, the stronger the outcomes for students. Researchers can continue to advance our understanding of the impacts of arts education on student development by conducting more studies that carefully specify and describe the arts learning experiences under study, and compare the impact of arts programs of differing types and levels of quality.
  • Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Studies. Many experimental and quasi-experimental studies in arts education are limited by research designs that use insufficient samples or that incorporate inadequate controls for causal inferences. More well-designed experimental and quasi-experimental studies that incorporate robust statistical controls, or mixed-method studies that pair qualitative and quantitative methods, are needed to address this gap in arts education research. Such studies will be of particular value in testing relationships now identified in a large number of prior studies—such as the relationship between drama-integrated English language arts instruction and students’ literacy and language development.
  • Ethnographic and Longitudinal Research. Ethnographic research directed at understanding how arts learning experiences impact students is needed to shed further light on the mechanisms through which particular arts experiences foster particular forms of student development. Quasi-experimental and experimental research designs often emphasized in educational research are ill suited to research questions driven by how questions. Rigorous ethnographic and qualitative research is needed in order to understand the dimensions of arts experiences that are responsible for fostering the outcomes that research associates with arts education. Understanding the specific dimensions of arts and arts-integrated learning experiences that help students develop skills key to career and college readiness may help to inform instruction in other disciplines, in which many leaders and policymakers are currently exploring how to design deeper learning experiences to help students develop these skills. Longitudinal research is also necessary to expand our understanding of how arts learning experiences unfold and affect students overtime, and how arts learning in early years affects students in their later lives.
  • Mixed Methods Research. Arts education research can also benefit from mixed-methods studies in which researchers blend quantitative and qualitative methods. Such studies may be particularly valuable in helping researchers to develop a more thorough understanding of the arts learning variable in particular research contexts, and how the outcomes of arts education vary depending on the nature and quality of the arts learning experience.
  • Research on New and Emerging Arts Forms. Given the prominent role of newer and emerging art forms—such as media arts, spoken word, and hip hop—in young people’s lives, an insufficient number of research studies currently examine the impacts of learning in these art forms on young people’s development. In particular, studies examining the role of arts education in preparing students for success in college and career, should look closely at these media which figure prominently not just in social, cultural, and educational arenas but in economic ones as well.

Questions to Guide Future Research

Early Education

  • How does arts education develop young children’s capacities for self-awareness and self-expression?
  • How do formal out-of-school arts learning opportunities (e.g. summer programs, “mommy and me” classes, church or community center activities) contribute to early childhood education outcomes?
  • What kinds of informal arts learning practices are cultivated by parents and caregivers outside of school? How do these practices affect children’s artistic, cognitive, personal, and social development? How can community-based and school-based educators support these practices and how might they function as a bridge to enhance parent involvement in schools?
  • From birth to the beginning of elementary education is a crucial stage of neurological development. What long-term impacts do the arts, when taught in early childhood, have on older students and adults?
  • How does visual arts instruction affect young children’s development?
  • What types of arts integration are best suited to develop which student academic and cognitive outcomes at particular grade levels?
  • How does the presence of arts education in early childhood programs affect the overall learning environment in these programs?

Elementary School

  • What are the mechanisms through which drama, visual art, music, and dance education impact elementary students’ capacity and motivation to learn—including impact on persistence, engagement, and thinking skills and general habits of mind related to success in school and life?
  • How are career and college readiness skills—such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving—developed through discrete and integrated arts learning experiences, and how do such skills developed in arts education at the elementary age affect students’ later academic careers?
  • How does arts education affect elementary students’ capacities to understand and express themselves?
  • How do various types of arts education experiences affect brain development in formative elementary years?
  • How are students from various backgrounds affected by arts education, when it comes to social, emotional, personal, cognitive, and academic development?
  • How effective is drama-integrated literacy instruction compared with other forms of literacy instruction?
  • How does arts education—delivered in both discrete and integrated arts classes—affect the learning environment in elementary schools?
  • How does arts education affect brain development? How do the type, depth, and quality of arts learning experiences relate to the nature and extent of the impact of arts education on brain development?

Middle School

  • What are the mechanisms through which drama, visual art, music, and dance education impact middle school students’ capacity and motivation to learn—including impact on persistence, engagement and motivation, thinking skills, and general habits of mind related to success in school and life?
  • How does arts education—delivered in both discrete and integrated arts classes—affect attendance in middle schools?
  • How do in-school and out-of-school arts education affect middle school students’ abilities to understand and express themselves?
  • How are career and college readiness skills—such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving—developed through discrete and integrated arts learning experiences, and how do such skills developed in arts education in the middle school years affect students’ later academic and professional careers?
  • How does arts-integrated remedial instruction compare with other remedial strategies for helping middle school students catch up in English language arts and other disciplines?
  • How does arts-integrated instruction affect academic success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics?
  • How does arts education—delivered in both discrete and integrated arts classes—affect the learning environment in middle schools?

High School

  • What are the mechanisms through which drama, visual art, music, and dance education impact high school students’ capacity and motivation to learn—including impacts on persistence, engagement and motivation, thinking skills, and general habits of mind related to success in school and life?
  • What are the long-term artistic, social, civic, personal, and professional outcomes of arts learning at the high school level?
  • How does arts learning in high school contribute to career and college readiness?
  • How do newer forms of dance, media arts, spoken word, and creative writing relate to academic, cognitive, personal, and social development?
  • How does arts education—delivered in both discrete and integrated arts classes—affect attendance in high schools?
  • How does in-school and out-of-school arts education affect high school students’ abilities to understand and express themselves?
  • How does arts education—delivered in both discrete and integrated arts classes—affect the learning environment in high schools?
  • How do high school students engage with, understand, and affect the world around them through their artwork?

Postsecondary

  • What are the mechanisms through which arts education develops cognitive abilities such as attention, divergent thinking, and creativity at the postsecondary level?
  • How does arts education at the postsecondary level impact learning and work in other domains and contexts?
  • How can the arts play a role in the pre-professional learning of undergraduate students who are prospective teachers?
  • How do the arts contribute to postsecondary students’ capacities to understand and engage with the world around them?
  • How is arts education related to success in the workforce?
  • What are the impacts of rigorous formal arts education on students’ college experience and career readiness?

Adult and Lifelong

  • How might arts-based leadership programs impact the training of school leaders? What other arts experiences, beyond music and theater, might be associated with improved cognitive function in older adults?
  • How can arts experiences help adults to bridge community and cultural divisions?
  • How can arts experiences help adults to address issues of personal and social identity?
  • What are the long-term cognitive outcomes associated with sustained participation in arts education?