I was reading an article today on potential of eLearning in university environments (Conole, 2010, Journal of eLearning and Knowledge Society). This author was pointing out how very few academic environments have truly fulfilled on the promises made – for “personalisation, student-centred learning, to support new forms of communication and dialogical learning and enriched multi-model forms of representation” (p.13). But what really caught my attention was the author’s reference to NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE being evident in studies of eLearning vs. traditional learning.
It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps we music therapists have been approaching the idea of statistical significance all wrong. Instead of comparing our programs to other existing programs and being disappointed that we are not SIGNIFICANTLY MORE effective, we should be comparing ourselves to other equivalent programs of excellence and showing that we are NOT SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE!
The author had used the argument in the way that music therapists do. Under controlled conditions there was no evidence that eLearning was better. But to my reading, as an interested and detached observer of the phenomenon, that was all I needed to hear – that it was no worse. Times are moving forward and the only thing standing in the way of eLearning would be if it were detrimental to student learning.
Similarly, music therapy is an appealing and engaging form of therapy in many contexts. There is often strong support from families and participants for music therapy programs, but funding is often not forthcoming, perhaps because of the lack of evidence. The argument we should be making is that the evidence shows that music therapy is doing no harm and that it is also desirable to consumers. We should be conducting investigations to make sure that it is not detrimental, instead of constantly focusing on analysis of results to identify which dimensions we can claim statistically significant improvements on. The best outcome we should be hoping for is equivalence, since I think we would all agree that we find music therapy as effective as other means of achieving therapeutic outcomes, but not necessarily more? Or perhaps that’s just me?