This paper from the OECD: Who Cares about Using Education Research in Policy and Practice? looks at the enormous effort and investment that is made to conduct and use education research to advise policy and practice.

However, and as the paper points out, “using research systematically and at scale in education policy making and practice remains a challenge for many countries and systems.”

This is certainly true in Australia. In part, this is because any lack of its use may be seen as a failing of VET research’s quantity, quality or relevance. However, there is also a lack of ‘corporate memory’ of its extent and relevance, particularly at the policy level.

And in the past in Australia…

In the early days of Australia’s concerted attempt to foster a body and culture of VET research, several authors took a look at the issue. This work dates back to the early-mid 1990s starting with the No small change report by Rod McDonald and colleagues at the University of Technology, Sydney. An operational plan for VET research was developed in 1993 by NCVER building on ‘No small change’. There were also quite a number of VET research strategies developed and implemented at both national and state/territory levels, including examples that you can access for 1995 to 1997, 1997 to 2000, 2001 to 2003 and 2002 to 2010. A look at VOCEDPlus will throw up more of these.

A paper by Chris Selby Smith and others in 1998 looked at the issue of VET research impact. It concluded that “research contributes to the ‘climate of opinion’ and the development of ‘ideas in good currency’”. In addition, “the strength of the linkages between research (and researchers) and decision-making (and decision-makers) also influences research impact.” It’s worth a read!

And in this OECD work…

The report consists of three parts. The first is focused on the conceptual landscape, the second on the actors who facilitate research use in policy and practice and the final one concerned new approaches to understanding research use. Its various chapters look at the changing landscape of research use in education, a review and comparative analysis of knowledge mobilisation models, the history and evolution of brokerage agencies in education as well as who is facilitating research use in education systems, how research use is facilitated, how research is linked to policy and practice and the use of evidence to inform policy and practice. Finally, it looks at the challenges and benefits of communication, collaboration and co-production of research as well as using research well in educational practice. This last chapter is Australian focused.

The paper points out that:

“The lack of time to access and engage with research is a shared challenge [across countries]. Barriers are commonly linked to the absence of appropriate structures and mechanisms although insufficient accessibility of research due to inappropriate or inconvenient formats means that user friendliness is also a problem in many systems.”

Co-producing research by teachers and policy makers is seen by the OECD as a promising way to make research more relevant and useful. However, they report that “even when research is co-produced, teachers, school leaders and policy makers are often only involved in limited ways.” They suggest: “More research is needed to understand how exactly engagement works in research co-production and what the necessary ingredients are for its success.” One of these is the possibility of peer learning.

The lessons learnt from this OECD work include the use of research through “thoughtful engagement with and implementation of appropriate research evidence.” It also requires partnerships between the players, including an understanding of “how such partnerships work exactly and what their potential is in increasing research dynamics and improving learning.” But you need quality research to advise policy and practice and moving beyond dialogue to “thoughtful engagement and implementation” so that “teachers critically engage with research evidence, collectively deliberate about its meaning, and effectively integrate aspects of the evidence within practice.” This requires effective synthesis and dissemination of research findings in easily understood forms with clear messages.

Certainly, in Australian VET we lack a research culture at provider level, even though a lot of ‘research’ – broadly conceived – actually goes on there. Governments also commission a lot of research too, but that – unfortunately – is often not published and publicly available.

The Victorian TAFE Association developed and published an introductory guide to doing applied research in TAFEs. You can access that guide here. Finally, evaluation and research are often linked processes that use common data gathering approaches. Some time ago – 1995 in fact – I (Author, Hugh Guthrie) developed a manual for evaluating VET programs for Queensland TAFE. You can find that here.

Are you curious about Applied Research and how you can get involved?

You’re invited to join Dr. Engela Van Der Klashorst on Wednesday 7 September for a VET Chat to explore everything you ever wanted to know about applied research.

This chat will unpack the concept of ‘applied research’. Together, we will explore the benefits of engaging in applied research and will identify practical steps that VET teachers and trainers can take to get involved.

Ready to get started with Applied Research? Register here – VET Chat: Applied Research – How Can I Get Involved?