Strategies for Bridging the Research-Practice Gap in Education

June 20, 2023 | By Candice Benge

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One of the central goals of the LEARN Network is to help educational products that already have a strong evidence base achieve scale. Despite strong evidence demonstrating their efficacy in improving learner outcomes, many educational products do not wind up in the hands of educators. A common misconception explaining this phenomenon is that education practitioners (superintendents, curriculum and instruction leaders, and principals) do not prioritize using research-based solutions. Recent studies have countered this framing of the problem and provide evidence that practitioners have a “generally positive” view of the “actionability and relevance of research” (p. 9).1, 2 So why isn’t evidence of a product’s success sufficient to increase its uptake? To answer this question, let’s look at three themes from the literature that reveal the challenges practitioners face in leveraging evidence in their decision-making and how we may better bridge the research-practice gap in education.

Prioritize accessibility

Evidence-based products show causal impacts on student-teacher outcomes through evaluations that use random assignment and control groups or other rigorous research designs.

Given the time constraints school and district leaders face, researchers should prioritize producing research materials that are easy for the intended audience to understand. Much education research is too technical, too long, and, for some, inaccessible due to paywalls.1,3 Product developers and researchers can make research on educational products more accessible by creating resources that are concise, easy to understand, and actionable. (For example, see Menu of Trauma-Informed Programs for Schools.) In addition, product developers can partner with information sources that already have credibility with practitioners.1 Similarly, leveraging existing school structures (e.g., professional learning communities) and being clear about how an intervention relates to current practice could open up the door for research to get in front of education practitioners (p. 6).1

Address local contexts

Farley-Ripple explains, “when practitioners do use external research, it is often in conjunction with some form of local research or local data analysis” (p. 12). 1

When reviewing research, education decisionmakers are concerned with the extent to which findings transfer to their local context. In some cases, decisionmakers will initiate a pilot to collect local data that identifies the potential for effectiveness in their context. Farley-Ripple explains, “when practitioners do use external research, it is often in conjunction with some form of local research or local data analysis” (p. 12).1 Alternatively, decisionmakers may rely on recommendations from districts of similar sizes and demographics.4 Therefore, product developers and researchers should be explicit about the contexts in which their research took place so decisionmakers can more easily determine if and how findings could transfer to their situations. Also, product developers should emphasize the elements of their products that are key to producing desired outcomes and the products’ adaptability to local context.

Build relationships

“Fostering end-user champions is key to generating support for a product from the bottom-up.”

When asked for vendors’ advice for “working more effectively with district stakeholders,” Morrison reports, “the most common theme was building stronger relationships” (p. 30).4 Researchers can leverage professional associations2 or more actively engage end-users in the development and execution of research projects.1 Fostering end-user champions is key to generating support for a product from the bottom-up. Survey results show that decisionmakers rely on end-user recommendation more than they rely on websites or sales representatives.4

What does this mean for the LEARN Network?

As the LEARN Network continues to explore how to scale evidence-based products in education, we will build on the findings from previous studies that highlight the importance of accessibility, addressing local contexts, and building relationships. Future blogs and resources will highlight findings from our original research and will expand our understanding of the decision-making process that education practitioners use to select products for their students.

Contact us with your ideas and experiences scaling in education on Twitter @SRI_Education. The LEARN Network will be sharing scaling stories and resources to support innovators in considering the dynamic, iterative, and multidimensional process of scaling. If you’d like to hear about our progress, sign up for our newsletter here.

1 Farley-Ripple, E., Van Horne, S., Tilley, K., Shewchuk, S., May, H., Micklos, D. A., Blackman, H. (2022). Survey of Evidence in Education for Schools (SEE-S) Descriptive Report Executive Summary. The Center for Research Use in Education (CRUE) & the Center for Research in Education and Social Policy (CRESP), University of Delaware.
2Penuel, W.R., Briggs, D.C., Davison, K.L., Herlihy, C., Sherer, D., Hill, H.C., Farrell, C., Allen, A.R. (2017). How School and District Leaders Access, Perceive, and Use Research. AERA Open, 3(2), 1-17.
3OECD (2022), Who Cares about Using Education Research in Policy and Practice?: Strengthening Research Engagement, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing, Paris,
4Morrison, J. R., Ross, S. M., Cheung, A. C. K. (2019). From the market to the classroom: How ed-tech products are procured by school districts interacting with vendors. Educational Technology Research and Development, 67(2) pp. 389-421 doi:10.1007/s11423-019-09649-4