Nuts & Bolts: Research Surprises

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One of my favorite facets of research is currently discovering something that I wasn’t expecting, even though it disturbs a preexisting notion. While I am sometimes referenced as a “mythbuster” that I really don’t start out there–I don’t set out with the objective of debunking something so much as providing a view of what the research really says. I’m interested in why some ideas are lasting and so attractive, what controlling and factors prove to be driving forces behind them, and that I try to keep an open mind about what the literature will reveal. Even when I thought I had a strong understanding of the research base some surprises are usually found by me. Here are a couple.
Learning styles
Surprise: Extent of commercialization
When I wrote The Truth About Teaching to Learning Styles and What to Do Instead, I was mindful of the appeal of “teaching to learning styles” among L&D practitioners, many of whom come into the industry through doorways aside from formal education in areas like instructional design. It’s certainly an attractive concept: type learners to boxes and provide experiences that fit in these boxes, even if the experience itself (think dancing fire extinguishers as a method of appealing to “visual learners”) does not do much for learning.
But I don’t have kids and had no idea how thoroughly the K-12 world has been permeated by the idea of learning styles. Schools promise parents instruction tailored to their child’s learning style; teacher professional development days that are biannual comprise learning styles workshops supported with substances containing commercial instruments and their certifications. The commercialization is so prevalent, it’s not unusual to see learning styles called a business or industry in the literature. Along with this comes the taken-at-face-value slew of magazine articles, blog articles, teaching manuals, and “research” printed by the men and women who promote instruments. The busy teacher bombarded with advertising materials about particular learning styles instruments may never run across much research information showing the ineffectiveness of trying to learning styles to educate.
If this is actually the one that I predict will prove to possess the maximum tenacity. It’s partly why I concluded the report not for having discussions about strategies that are more effective with studying stakeholders however for contending.
Personality inventories
Surprise: The Big Five Inventory*
Over decades spent L&D I’ve largely seen popular personality-type instruments used as amusing and team-building get-to-know-you actions, not as the near-weaponized pigeonholing horror stories I’ve sometimes heard.
It was not before embarking on a literature review to Personality Inventories, while I was conscious of the Big Five inventory: Fiction, Fact, Future that I found it had credibility, even among critics of the idea. Its very construction has validity. And unlike other instruments, data show positive relationships between Big Five traits and workplace performance. And the tool is available at no cost and requires no certificate for government.
It is not much of a leap to believe that despite its authenticity, its insufficient uptake relative to character inventories has something to do with the shortage of advertising dollars. Those working with stakeholders on using a character measure, insisting may want to have a look in the Big Five to some of the better-known products as opposed.
*Also called the Five-Factor Model or CANOE denoting attributes or from the OCEAN measured.
Generations
Surprise: Just how little real data is there
Having worked in L&D departments placed under HR for several decades, I felt that the discussion about “generations” smacked old discrimination. I moved for More Similar than Separate to the literature review: What the Research Says About Generations in the Workplace trusting, actually –to find info about the job performance of clearly defined classes with agreed-upon generational boundaries in cohorts. I anticipated that info would demonstrate no significant differences.
What I found, rather, is what one may call a “hot mess”. I was surprised at how small in the way of a framework for understanding this is established–by the definition of “generation” to which factors matter in analyzing generations to the methodology for analyses.
The research is usually weak, comprised largely of self-report survey information offered by people supported into classes by age and characterized as “generations”, and small addresses if there are real differences in things like work and productivity performance.
By reviewing the literature one takeaway? Our need to find simple explanations and formulas for responding to conflict and interactions and contradictions will probably continue to provide rich opportunities for investigators for years to come.
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