Over the last few weeks, I’ve been excited and encouraged to see more online articles and discussions on the subject of better integrating research and practice. For example, eLearning Guild has been publishing Research for Practioners articles (latest one here); the ASTD L&D community leader, Juana Llorens is advocating for evidence-based practice; the #lmchat on Twitter a few weeks ago focused on research (look for the transcript from January 24)… and more. Since integrating theory and research into practice is (I hope!) one of the hallmarks of my own work, it’s great to see more attention on this topic.
We need to talk about bringing theory and research into practice more because it isn’t an easy thing to do.
Really, it’s a lot harder than you think. Most academic research reports are not written with extensive advice on how the findings might influence practice. And there is a lot of research that is more about documenting trends than it is about exploring what works and what doesn’t. And building research evidence for a particular practice can be painstaking work over several studies – while reports of the work may be delayed in the publishing cycle or available only to members of an organization. Research can be both hard to find and hard to fathom.
Once you get your hands on a piece of research that you think may (or should!) have an impact on your practice, you probably need to translate that research into relatable terms in order that others may be as excited about the ideas as you are. Once you discover “gold” – an idea that is useful – you have to mine it and refine it to make it valuable to others.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this lately along with my colleague Martin Kormanik. We’re putting together a half-day workshop as a pre-conference event for the Academy of Human Resource Development (AHRD) conference in Arlington, Virginia next week. We called it “Mining for Gold” and the metaphor seems to be apt because you truly do need a headlamp, a pickaxe, and an extra dose of grit to venture into the mountains of research that is available in order to find that seam of gold. But it’s so worth it when you do!
There IS gold in those mountains – theory that can help you to frame your experiences and shape your approaches, and research that sheds real light on what works and what doesn’t.
To discover research and theory gold, we have to go looking… both as a regular routine (serendipitous finds!) and when we’re embarking on new projects. Some of us may even be inventing it though some alchemy of experience and synthesis of existing materials.
To mine research and theory gold, we need a finely-tuned sense of what our clients would value, and we need to be able to express theory and research in terms that are appealing – using graphics, analogies, metaphors, lists, mnemonics, contrast, stories, etc. We have to make well-considered choices to leave behind some of the details in order to maximize the potential for generating excitement about our discoveries.
To refine research and theory gold, we want to present our ideas in a way that is convincing and compelling. Too many good ideas get tossed to the wayside based on a perceived lack of shine.
Martin and I are finalizing details of our workshop, and I’ll post more on this topic in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you’re in the Arlington/Washington, DC area on February 14, consider joining us for the event. (Registration info is here.) You don’t have to be a member of AHRD or be staying for the whole conference to register for the workshop (although we’d love to count you in for both!).
And if you are coming to the conference, be sure to meet up with the folks (like me) who are in the Scholar-Practitioner Special Interest Group. Together, we can hone our techniques for mining that sometimes elusive theory and research gold.