Research Matters

On 14 April 2013 by admin

Evidence-based education is the conscientious use of the best evidence in the delivery, teaching and learning of a profession.

Very broadly, educational research allows us to question, explore, deduce and describe the processes of learning and teaching. It allows us to be scientists with respect to learning and teaching, such that the evidence gathered and synthesised further contributes to the body of knowledge and onward application.

  • Generalising and establishing an underlying set of learning principles
  • Designing curricula with intent
  • Improving attitudes, motivations and enthusiasm towards a subject
  • Building confidence and competence in a subject
  • Understanding the effects of variables and randomisation in learning and teaching
  • Exploring learner opinions, experiences and future intentions
  • Continuously improving educational endeavours

Whilst appreciating our distinct uniqueness, the literature suggests some general underlying principles of learning and teaching – and perhaps the most noteworthy of these stem from educational neuroscience and the innate need for engagement, understanding, application and relevance.



Many textbooks and educational research courses will delve into the theoretical understandings, practical knowledge and skills required for carrying out educational research and so aren’t discussed here.  On the whole, however, it is focused heavily on learning and teaching processes – and a large body of evidence has been generated in the realm of Higher Education and school level.

Although the body of research evidence for the workplace and post graduate education might need more examination, the ethos is the same.

  1. There may be an issue that needs solving (the research question)
  2. We propose solutions and test them
  3. Testing involves measuring outcomes
  4. Outcomes lead to the interpretation of results and recommendations

The results and reported recommendations form the basis for areas that include improving practice, adding to the knowledge base, advocating change and/or implementing new policy. Whilst organisational access to primary sources of educational research may be an issue for some practitioners, many (in whatever educational setting) will engage in some form of evidence-based inquiry or practice. Furthermore, systematic investigation and research syntheses of educational topics for instance, will support the implementation of informed educational decisions – in the same way that evidence contributes to scientific and medical ventures.

With the increasing theoretical base gaining much admiration in the primary literature, it is the application of educational research that constitutes value to many – whether it is in work-based assessment, understanding and improving the learning environment or simply in supporting learners through the continuum of training, education and continuing professional development.



For instance, how can we maximise the value of training?  Anderson (2007) outlines how “training programmes usually aim to provide participants with a new skill quickly”, are often very short, and “can cover a wide range from instilling service orientation to task based activities”. Indeed, situated knowledge, skills and procedures can often be the responsibility of the employing organisation. However, to what extent does it contribute to ongoing education and professional development?

Participation in a succession of ad hoc training courses does not guarantee that professional knowledge will be built in a progressive and constructive way. …Knowledge and skills gained in this way are acquired in bits and pieces…they have to be put together like a jigsaw puzzle by the learner… Thus while training for continuing professional development after graduation is an essential component of life-long learning, an unstructured aggregation of short courses alone is unlikely to lead to the development of well-rounded professionals.” (Anderson, 2007)

In counteracting this philosophy (and as advocated by Anderson), short training sessions that are tailored for a particular institution or profession, will be profitable when they are spread over a couple of weeks; such that they support the consolidation of new skills and the application of the skill set. Indeed, research tends to advocate this point of view.


Education and CPD

For professional education programmes, curricula is often designed to encourage lifelong developments – that go beyond short term needs or even the immediate tasks and requirements of the employing organisation. Approaches (that are underpinned by research evidence) often include:

  • Theory and principles underpinning professional practice
  • Skills for lifelong learning and in keeping up to date with developments in the profession
  • Problem solving, creative thinking and reflective practice
  • Team cooperation and collaborative learning
  • Authentic assessment for learning
  • Systematic continuing professional development
  • Investigation through research and critical enquiry for continuous improvement
  • A continuing enterprise of applying new professional knowledge in day to day practices



Connecting educational research with personal, organisational & professional responsibilities in learning & application, may just offer a fruitful way forward in contributing to enterprising services (and to society as a whole).



Anderson, K. (2007). Education and training for records professionals. Records Management Journal, 17(2): 94-106.

Arthur, J., Waring, M., Coe, R. & Hedges, L. (2012). Research Methods & Methodologies in Education. Sage: London. ISBN: 978-0-85702-039-0.

Caine, R.N. & Caine, G. (1990). Understanding a Brain-Based Approach to Learning and Teaching. Educational Leadership, 48 (2): 66-70.

Cisco. (2010). Moving from education systems to learning societies (executive summary).

El-Farargy, N. (2012). Educational Research: Reviewing the literature. New Directions. Issue 8. Higher Education Academy: York. ISSN: 1740-9888.

El-Farargy, N. (2013). Book review: Research Methods & Methodologies in Education, Arthur et al, 2012. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(2): E63-E64. doi:10.1111/bjet.12025.

Fischer, K. W., Goswami, U. & Geake, J. (2010). The Future of Educational Neuroscience. Mind, Brain and Education, 4(2): 68-80.

Goldacre, B. (2013). Building evidence into education. Department for Education: UK.

Huitt, W. (2003). The information processing approach to cognition. Educational Psychology Interactive.

Knowles M. S. (1990). The adult learner: a neglected species (4th ed.). Gulf Publishing Company: London.

Morgan-Klien, B. & Osborne, M. (2007). The Concepts and Practices of Lifelong Learning. Routledge: London. ISBN: 978-0-415-42861-3.


Part 2 of Research Matters will explore the implications of educational research in the growing phenomena of free open online courses and workplace e-Education modules.


Except where attributed, © Nancy El-Farargy, 2013.


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