How can we effectively use the underlying knowledge base of our field to ground our work?
curated resources on scholarly practice
As learning leaders in organizations, it is critical that we bring expertise in our own field of practice to the work that we do. If we don’t want to get beguiled by buzzwords or caught up in fads, we need to have a solid understanding of the knowledge base of our field and be able to parse what works from what just sounds good. Our organizations depend on us to know what we’re doing.
Advocates of having this kind of solid grounding use a variety of terms and specific practices to describe what is needed here. We are admonished to make evidence-based decisions, advised to ensure our recommendations are evidence-informed, and urged to develop an understanding of the learning sciences. Another way of conceptualizing this way of working is scholarly practice, used in the Academy of Human Resource Development as well as other professions. I think this term encompasses a broader range of valuable behaviors, and it is the one I tend to prefer.
The art and science of scholarly practice
Scholarly practice entails making sure that what we are recommending has a solid base of theory and evidence to back it up. It involves learning the body of knowledge that underpins our work. Of course, in a complex field like L&D, each practitioner develops mastery in those arenas most important to their specific work, such as adult learning dynamics, instructional techniques, visual design, digital learning, and more. Mastery allows you the confidence to flex, which is critical because theoretical frameworks often require tweaking in order to make them more practical for a given situation.
Scholarly practice behaviors can be summarized along five dimensions:
Using the underlying body of theory and research to inform our recommendations
Deliberately searching the academic literature for relevant ideas when we have strategic initiatives to support
Looking for or producing the research evidence to support our activities and practices
Applying research skills in our own work to test out the effectiveness of our activities
Engaging with academics to exchange perspectives on the linkages between theory and practice.
More than just developing mastery of particular areas of the field, scholarly practice also entails having a questing and analytic mindset, deliberately learning from experience, and engaging in reflective practice. Effectiveness requires intellectual curiosity, organizational savvy, comfort with ambiguity, and solid communication and influencing skills.
The process of using evidence to inform our work
The process of engaging with theory and research has been documented from several different perspectives. There’s a broad perspective that describes an approach to scholarly practice embedded across many aspects of our work (as outlined in the bullets above). Additionally, advocates in management studies have drilled down to document a specific robust process for evaluating what we know on a particular topic in order to make evidence-based decisions. Still others have zoomed in even more closely to lay out how to examine individual claims. These are briefly described below with links to more details on each approach.
These processes and skills help to ensure that we make recommendations that are apt to succeed, and that we avoid pitching ideas that are unproven and based on little more than gut feeling or effective marketing. Strengthening our understanding of research in our field ensures that we bring real expertise to the table in supporting learning and development in organizations.
If you need due diligence on a particular topic, I can be contracted to explore the research and synthesize recommendations that can inform decisions for your organization. Contact me to discuss.
Or, if you would like to strengthen your team’s ability to apply the theory and research of our field to your everyday projects or to approach their work with an evidence-based mindset, please contact me to explore developmental activities.
// Scholarly practice writ large
Scholar-practitioners infuse specific behaviors and mindsets across all their work, and the role has been researched across a variety of applied fields. The force driving people to describe and research scholarly practice is a desire to eliminate the disconnect between research and practice – the unfortunate truth that unsupported ideas make their way into the popular consciousness. Descriptions of scholarly practice provide broader guidelines for working in a way that attends to various forms of evidence and is reflective of scholars’ and practitioners’ acquired knowledge.
SMART Practice in depth by Catherine Lombardozzi, Leanring Journal blog post, 2010 (expanded to a full academic article in 2013) – I write about how to integrate scholarly practice with a business mindset, describing the resulting approach as scholarly, macro, aligned, realistic, and tested.
Cultivating an evidence-based practice in Focus on Inquiry, by Sharon Friesen et al. for the Galileo Educational Network – This piece is directed at educators, but it’s easy to see the connection with our own work.
// Deep dive into scholarly practice
Scholarly practice has been deeply explored by academics, and I, myself, have authored several summaries and thought pieces on the subject (some co-authored with Jo Tyler). These citations will lead you to those resources if you are interested. Ironically, you likely need access to an academic database to read these in full.
Through a kaleidoscope: Dimensions of scholarly practice. (with Jo Tyler, 2017) Advances in Developing Human Resources, 19(3). (publisher’s website) – We describe how scholarly practice behaviors can be woven throughout any consulting process.
Ways of thinking, being, and doing: The scholar-practitioner mindset for successfully innovating HRD. (with Jo Tyler as lead author, 2017) Advances in Developing Human Resources, 19(3). (publisher’s website) – We articulate nuanced behaviors of the scholar-practitioner, which involve being smart, brave, and generous.
The SMART practice of scholarly practice. (2013) Advances in Developing Human Resources 15(3). (publisher’s website / SMART Practice pre-publication version) – I write about how to integrate scholarly practice with a business mindset, describing the resulting approach as scholarly, macro, aligned, realistic, and tested.
Avoiding malpractice in HRD: Five imperatives for HRD professionals in organizations. (2007) HRD Review 6(9). (publisher’s website / Avoiding Malpractice pre-publication version) – This is a call to action for learning and development professionals to practice conscious competence, consistently ask for evidence and theoretical base for suggested solutions, proactively and deeply research your company’s strategic HRD issues, partner with researchers to learn more about your strategic issues and stay current in the field.
Advances in Developing Human Resources is the practitioner-oriented publication of the Academy of Human Resource Development, and there have been three editions of the journal specifically on scholarly practice. Each issue contains multiple articles of scholarly practice in HRD. Recommended!
Integrating Research and Practice (August 2017 issue). Advances in Developing Human Resources 19(3). Edited by Jia Wang (publisher website)
Scholar-Practitioner Case Approach: Implications for Advancing Theory and Research Through Informed Practice (August 2013 issue). Advances in Developing Human Resources 15(3). Edited by Ellen Scully-Russ,Rachelle Lehner,and Brad Shuck (publisher website)
Bridging the Gap: Scholar-practitioners in Human Resource Development (August 2009 issue). Advances in Developing Human Resources 11(4). Edited by Darren C. Short, Martin B. Kormanik and Wendy E.A. Ruona (publisher website)
// A process for evidence-based decision making
Senior academics in management studies have long worked to teach leaders in their programs how to effectively make evidence-based decisions. Their work has emerged into a six-step process: ask, acquire, appraise, aggregate, apply, and assess. Their model also encourages leaders to draw from four sources in their search for evidence, each with a different angle on the issue at hand: scientific literature, professional expertise, internal data, and stakeholders.
Educator Daniel T. Willingham has described an approach that guides educators (of all kinds) to evaluate the validity of claims made in any venue (article, web page, conversation). In shorthand, he recommends that practitioners: 1) strip it and flip it; 2) trace it; 3) analyze it; and 4) ask: Should I do it? This process is advocated by L&D experts Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner in their new book, Evidence-Informed Learning Design (Kogan Page, 2020).