Practice and Research – simultaneous, antagonistic or synchronistic?

Is it possible to do more than one thing at a time? Like ‘have your cake and eat it too’? Peter Senge suggests the latter is possible “just not at the same time” in his experience.

So what about Practice and Research? Is it really not possible to do both at once? is this why they seem so often to be warring factions rather than inevitable bedmates in educational improvement activity?

My dissertation was written about my practice and while I was practising. in that sense, then, I was doing both at once ‘just not at the same time’!

The image that comes to mind when i explore this problem of aligning Practice and Research is one called variously the “Boring” image, and “my wife and my mother in law”


You may recall it from some psychology or adult learning class where you were asked to describe what you saw – and having duly said your version of  ‘an old lady’ or ‘a bright young thing’  were then asked to look again and find the image that others had seen and you had missed. Both images are there, they do not ‘move’ or change while you examine them – only your persecutive changes.

This is a reasonable metaphor for the experience of ‘researching’ and ‘practising’ as an educator. you have the capacity to do both – and in fact are often generating factors for each while working on the other. But the key it seems to me, is to accept that neither has pre-eminence or greater importance, but merely priority at certain times in your attention to them.

Kurt Lewin noted that “There Is Nothing So Practical As Good Theory” and some have added “nor so theoretical as good practice”. In other words each contains the other in a manner that is quite different from ways in which they are separated and held to be different in various educational contexts.

Why is this worth writing about? Because I struggled to work on my theory/practice alignment concept and found little help from conventional ‘research’  which wanted me to ‘stand aside’ from my ‘practice’ long enough to achieve ‘objectivity’.

But I found that – with an effort that was well worth while – I could both practice and research. And do both successfully! It takes time, requires a flexibility of perceptual analysis, and can be great fun! When I began to understand the theoretical framework informing my own practice because I was applying the research I needed to do so – I had become able to take this sound advice –

Adult educators, along with other professionals, often suggest that competent performance is a matter of familiarising oneself with theories and then of putting these acquired theories into practice as relevant occasions arise. However, while an understanding of theoretical constructions is important to any serious vocational endeavour, it is more efficacious to think in terms of engaging thoughtfully with theory and then, putting ourselves into practice, rather than putting theory into practice.*

* Collins, M. (1991). Adult Education as Vocation: A Critical Role for the Adult Educator. London, Routledge

About gamestolearn

Games designer, and teacher of games design.
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