One of the things that I want to bring to my teaching next year is to encourage students to adopt a mode of practice that is scholarly and evidence-based. In all my classes, I try to change student’s thinking so that they see learning theory and research not as an academic exercise but as a vital and living part of the way they approach their work. Many master’s-level students are intimidated by theoretical debates and they prefer reading material that synthesizes theory into instrumental recommendations.
I’m on a mission to change that.
Here’s something I’ve been toying with, and I’d love to hear reactions. I’m working on devoting a class session to what I think I’ll call “SMART Practice.”
SMART Practice is Scholarly, Macro, Aligned, Realistic, and Tested.
Scholarly. There’s that awful word, right at the top of the list. Our work needs to be grounded in the theory and research that is most relevent to our activities. The truth of the matter is that we all work from assumptions and theories about what is important and what works to achieve ends. Being scholarly simply means we seek out other thinkers and listen to the ways they explain the world. We read research and case studies and interpret their implications on our everyday approaches.
Macro. To be successful in supporting learning in organizations, we need to take a macro-level view that encompasses both what’s going on in the organization and what’s being talked about in our industry. If we are to have impact as learning leaders, we must constantly compare the trends against the short and long term goals of the organization to see where there may be gaps or opportunities. We need to look for intersections and interactions between what is on the horizon from a learning technique perspective and what is on the horizon for our organizations. We can add tremendous value if we can help identify (or invent!) and then move toward whatever is next.
Aligned. SMART Practice is aligned with organizational and individual goals as well as integrated with other HR and OD initiatives. Our modern world is rife with opportunities to divide our attention, and we need to consider whether it’s best to move many things forward slowly or to move a few things forward more aggressively. If new approaches and initiatives align, we get synergy instead of divided attention.
Realistic. Those who cringe at the thought of being scholarly will likely applaud the advice to be realistic. We have to customize approaches and adopt theories in ways that are workable for the contexts, opportunities, and problems that we face in our own organizations. At the same time, we need to be careful not to compromise the theoretical structure completely – like playing the game Jenga, we have to know which pieces can be removed without making the whole tower fall down.
Tested. When we implement, we need to monitor the progress of the approach and make sure we’re getting the outcomes we want ( and not getting outcomes we didn’t want). SMART practitioners often start with pilot programs and monitor roll-outs as they scale. It’s helpful to know that an approach we are implementing has been tested in other organizations, but that won’t necessarily mean it will work in ours.
That’s the gist of what I want to advocate… The idea that practice should be Scholarly and Tested gets at what many people are thinking about when they talk “scholarly practice,” while the other three items (Macro, Aligned, and Realistic) are more practical, I think.