What ECR Funds

What ECR Funds

The EDU Core Research (ECR) program at NSF supports fundamental STEM education research and capacity-building projects to conduct such research, complementing the more applied focus of other NSF EDU programs.

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What is the ECR Program?

The EDU Core Research (ECR) program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) funds fundamental research on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education as well as projects that build individuals’ capacity to conduct such research. The ECR program funds both:

  • Fundamental research projects through the ECR:Core solicitation
  • Capacity-building projects through the ECR Building Capacity in STEM Education Research (BCSER) solicitation

Are you a prospective grantee? See tips here for exploring current NSF ECR funding opportunities; this link also includes specific tips if you are new to STEM education research (if you are, the below requirements for fundamental research are less strict when applying to ECR:BCSER specifically).

What is Fundamental Research?

ECR’s focus on fundamental research distinguishes the program from more applied programs within NSF’s Directorate for STEM Education (EDU). Fundamental research generates knowledge and understanding with the potential for broad relevance. Unlike more applied research, its implications for improving STEM education practice may be indirect and long-term rather than direct and immediate. 

Fundamental research explores curiosity-driven and use‑inspired questions such as: 

  • How do students learn algebra? 
  • What systemic barriers and biases do certain groups face in STEM training? 
  • What new types of emerging technological skills are STEM employers looking for?

This NSF-IES common guidelines document further elaborates (see descriptions for "foundational research" and "early-stage or exploratory research"). 

What Research Areas Does ECR Fund?

Click the below links to see example fundamental research and capacity-building projects across the three research areas that ECR funds:

  • STEM learning and learning environments: Fundamental research on STEM teaching and learning in any virtual, formal, or informal learning environment at any age level.
  • Broadening participation in STEM: Fundamental research on individual or organizational factors that impact the participation of diverse groups in STEM, such as people of races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and disabilities who are currently underrepresented in STEM.
  • STEM workforce development: Fundamental research on workforce-related topics such as STEM workforce participation, skill-building approaches, workplace knowledge and competencies, learning in workplace contexts, and critical shifts in STEM workforce trends.

If your idea is not reflected in these examples, do not be prematurely discouraged. Also remember: Under-researched topics can be prime opportunities for future research.

How Does ECR Relate to Other NSF Programs?

Other NSF EDU programs such as the Discovery Research PreK-12 (DRK-12) or Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) programs focus more on applied research projects that develop, test, and implement educational interventions. Though some ECR projects also develop and test interventions, the focus should be on theory building and generating knowledge with the potential for broad relevance.

If you think another NSF program may better fit your idea, consider exploring the websites for other NSF resource centers, the EDU Directorate, or the EDU division(s) most relevant to your interests:

  • DRL: Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings
  • DUE: Division of Undergraduate Education
  • DGE: Division of Graduate Education
  • EES: Division of Equity for Excellence in STEM

The ECR program spans all four EDU divisions, whereas other programs often reside in a single EDU division (e.g., DRK-12 is specific to DRL). 

More Information

Learn more about the ECR Hub, a multi-institutional resource center that partners with NSF to support and grow communities of fundamental STEM education researchers.

Learn more on NSF’s website about the history of the ECR program, which has been celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2023, including through a speaker series (recordings available online).