Building bridges between research and educational practice

In yesterday’s teacher article, we discussed what is meant by evidence-based practice in education, including quality research, evidence-based teaching practice, and gathering of evidence to help you understand and meet your students’ needs. The transfer of academic research into classroom practice has traditionally been a one-way street – from research to practice. Here colleagues Stephanie MacMahon, Jack Leggett and Annemaree Carroll of the University of Queensland (UQ) share details of a collaboration with educators aimed at bridging the gap between research and practice and making translation a two-way engagement process.

In Australia, a systematic approach is required to develop, share and implement evidence-based practices more widely and more quickly (Australian Government Department of Education and Training, 2018). The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers states that all teachers should demonstrate the ability to engage in relevant research and that experienced teachers should develop and apply evidence-based practices in schools (AITSL, 2011).

Scientific research can influence practice, but putting it into practice in diverse and complex school contexts is challenging. Understanding these challenges can help bridge the gap between research and practice. At the Science of Learning Research Center (SLRC) – a UQ center that integrates neuroscience, education and psychology – research is carried out to understand, measure and promote learning.

The SLRC is also exploring how research can be effectively implemented in Australian classrooms. The results helped shape the SLRC Partner Schools Program (PSP), a program of subject-matter investigation and collaboration between educators and researchers.

Why there is a gap between research and practice

Here are three of the factors research suggests contributing to the divide, along with comments from participating teachers to illustrate key ideas and experiences.

  1. For educators, access for research and researchers can be challenging, and this can reduce the perceived relevance of research to practice (Lysenko et al., 2014; Wandersman, 2003). Schools are often unable to access relevant journals and attend research presentations, as reflected in a comment from one of the PSP principals: “I didn’t have access to the university database so I was really quite dependent on it” [SLRC team] to make these papers available. ‘
  2. Considerable time is required to engage in research and assess the impact of evidence-based practices, and free time in schools is becoming increasingly rare. ‘[My biggest challenge] as a teacher, time is a challenge … I have a full-time burden. “
  3. Report from educators low self-efficacyfor engaging with research and applying knowledge (Coldwell, et al., 2017; Lysenko, 2014). For some, working with universities or researchers is intimidating: “I’ve found that not everyone is comfortable with research; and that some people find the idea of ​​working and researching with universities and even getting some professional training at university, they weren’t as comfortable as I thought they would be. … Is it because we say “neuroscience and psychology”? … or I wonder if there is something about “science” … that makes people feel, “Well, I have no background in it, so that won’t be accessible to me?”

The PSP is designed to address these and other factors that contribute to the gap between research and practice.

Educators and researchers are joining forces to fill the gap

Traditional research translation is often one-way – from research to practice, ignoring the knowledge of educators (Fischer, 2009). Partnerships for dialogue between researchers and educators are therefore fundamental to the PSP.

To establish these partnerships, researchers from the SLRC and UQ work with a small group of teachers and principals from each school to identify a topic of interest to that school. The partners work together to understand the phenomenon: what the research says about it and what it looks like in their school context.

The phenomena examined in the PSP include the well-being of teachers and students, effective learning strategies, learning regulation, blended learning, engagement, motivation, transitions and more. Through a one-year professional partnership between the school team and the SLRC researchers, each school maintains six formal contact points, which are supplemented by further ongoing engagements with the SLRC team.

The PSP is designed to increase the efficiency of teachers in conducting and understanding research and to provide professional learning at these formal touchpoints:

  • Assessment of the quality and relevance of evidence;
  • Research design;
  • Development and management of measures;
  • Data analysis and interpretation; and,
  • Research translation and communication.

Based on the expertise of the SLRC, each school conducts a research program in its own school on its phenomenon of interest. Projects are designed to help teachers balance rigor with reality: systematically examining the priorities identified by the school while maintaining a manageable scope, considering existing evidence within the school where possible, and recognizing limits in interpreting the results. The projects should be valuable in themselves, but also enable educators to continue using their new skills outside and after the project.

Benefits of a school-centered partnership approach

Schools at PSP help improve our understanding of effective research translation. The PSP is evaluated as a translation model, whereby various impact measurements on the research competence of educators, the perceived self and collective effectiveness and professional networks are used.

Initial results suggest that it improves the capacity and effectiveness of educators and the school learning culture. The PSP provides educators with the tools to systematically collect evidence. As one teacher put it: “… [it is] our evidence. It’s not other people’s evidence … So while we’re using others [research] to back up what we say … it’s more ours. ‘

Most important, however, is the impact each project has within the unique school communities of teachers and how the projects expand the circle of engagement between educators and researchers. Another teacher commented, “Being part of a partnership like this, giving teachers access to researchers and university staff – you know there is talk of university-school links and partnerships, but that made it practical.”

How schools can get involved

The SLRC partner school program is open to all schools across Australia. It usually runs over the school year, but there is flexibility depending on the needs of each school.

For more information about the program and how to participate, please email Dr. Stephanie MacMahon at

Stay tuned: The authors of this article, as well as teachers and principals participating in the partnership program, will be sharing more about what is going on at some schools in the coming weeksTeacher.


AITSL. (2011). Australian professional standards for teachers.

Coldwell, M., Greany, T., Higgins, S., Brown, C., Maxwell, B., Stiell, B., Stoll, L., Willis, B. & Burns, H. (2017). Evidence-Based Teaching: An Evaluation of Progress in England. Research report July 2017 (DFE-RR696). Department of Education.

Australian Department of Education and Training (2018). Growing to Success: Review of Achieving Educational Excellence in Australian Schools Review. Commonwealth of Australia.

Fischer, KW (2009). Mind, Brain, and Education: Building a Scientific Basis for Learning and Teaching 1. Mind, brain and education, 3(1), 3-16.

Lysenko, LV, Abrami, PC, Bernard, RM, Dagenais, C. & Janosz, M. (2014). Educational Research in Educational Practice: Use Predictors. Canadian Journal for Education, 37(2), 1-26

Wandersmann, A. (2003). Community Science: Bridging the gap between science and practice with community-based models. American Journal of Community Psychology, Dec.(3/4), 227-242.

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