Theory or Research?

There’s a lot of call for evidence-based methods (as mentioned yesterday): L&D, learning design, and more. And this is a good thing. But…do you want to be basing your steps on a particular empirical study, or the framework within which that study emerged? Let me make the case for one approach. My answer to theory or research is theory. Here’s why.

Most research experiments are done in the context of a theoretical framework. For instance, the work on worked examples comes from John Sweller’s Cognitive Load theory. Ann Brown & Ann-Marie Palincsar’s experiments on reading were framed within Reciprocal Teaching, etc. Theory generates experiments which refine theory.

The individual experiments illuminate aspects of the broader perspective. Researchers tend to run experiments driven by a theory. The theory leads to a hypothesis, and then that hypothesis is testable. There are some exploratory studies done, but typically a theoretical explanation is generated to explain the results. That explanation is then subject to further testing.

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