You may think that learning research is pie-in-the-sky stuff that’s meant only for people who enjoy big words and obscure concepts. Or you may only be interested in research when you’re trying to convince your boss that your group needs to do something differently or to sign off on buying something she’s not so keen on.

It’s all about you

Actually, you should be interested in research for a lot of reasons, but the main reason is to improve your own practice. But to use it to improve your practice, you need to understand it. And over the next few months, I hope to help you do just that.

A few months ago I added the role of research director at The eLearning Guild to my plate. “Wait,” I hear you thinking. “Aren’t you an instructional designer?” Yep. And as an instructional designer I’m extremely concerned (as we all should be) with making what I do better. And research is one of the best ways to do that.

Research, you see, doesn’t have to be only pie-in-the-sky stuff that’s meant for people who enjoy big words and obscure concepts. In fact, when it’s aimed at folks in the trenches like you and me, it shouldn’t have big words or obscure concepts. It’s something that encompasses numerous special and everyday activities that have numerous implications for making us better at what we do. (I’ll be discussing exactly what this means for The eLearning Guild and for you next month and I think you’ll be excited to hear about what’s coming – I sure am!)

The goal: improving practice

How can research improve practice? Well, that’s easy. Let’s say a speaker at a conference session tells you, “Research shows that that there are good reasons why the narrator shouldn’t read the words that appear onscreen in an asynchronous (self-paced) eLearning course.” Now suppose this is something that is of interest to you because it’s not how your group does things. In fact, in your asynchronous eLearning, your narrators do read the words on the screen word for word. The speaker’s next slide is Figure 1.

Figure 1: Redundancy principle slide

You’re listening closely because you want to know more. She explains Mayer’s research, which found that explaining graphics with audio and redundant text may interfere with learning. (Ruth Clark explains Mayer’s Redundancy Principle among his other multimedia-research-based principles in a Learning Solutions article.)

Sadly, most learning professionals don’t really question when writers or speakers say, “Research shows…,” but they should, because not all research is as good as Mayer’s. And some research may be good but not applicable to your situation. So, as Sy Sims of the former SYMS clothing stores used to say, “An educated consumer is our best customer.”

Take, for example, the presented–as-eLearning-research shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2. eLearning research example


There are numerous problems with the presentation of supposed research in Figure 2 (these same problems appear in numerous other places as well). Although the writer cites studies, there is no bibliography at the end of the discussion so that you can easily find the actual studies cited—the author could have easily made up the studies. It makes no attempt at balance and/or to discuss the offsetting costs that occur with eLearning such as LMS, design and development, etc., so the discussion is biased. And the discussion is extremely superficial. No attempt is made to discuss studies that show when it might be worthwhile to spend money on travel costs.

In order to determine whether research is valuable to you, there are numerous things you need to take into account, such as the number of respondents, how the research was conducted, and the types of participants that were involved. In addition to bringing you the types of research you need to make decisions and improve your practice, I’ll be helping you figure out how to read research and determine if it is valuable for your purposes.

What is Research?

When you think about research, most people think of scientific research involving double-blind studies and the like. But research takes many forms, including numerous activities that include discovery, interviews, surveys, collecting useful information, and so on. What do all forms of research have in common? All seek to bring about collecting data and turning that into knowledge for the good of the community. And the Guild’s community is you!