The potential benefits of bridging theory and practice are noted by Donald Stokes in his recent work, Pasteur's Quadrant (1997). Stokes observed that many of the advances in science are intimately connected to the search for solutions to practical problems. Pasteur appears in the book's title because his work contributed so clearly to scientific understanding while simultaneously focusing on practical problems. Such research is "use-inspired." As in Pasteur's case, when executed as part of a systematic and strategic program of inquiry, it can support new understandings at the most fundamental and basic scientific level.
A central theme of Stokes's argument is that the typical linear conceptualization of research as a sequence from basic to applied is an inaccurate characterization of much research, and it is highly limiting for the envisioning of a research agenda. He proposes instead a quadrant in two-dimensional space in which considerations of use and the quest for fundamental understanding define the horizontal and vertical axes respectively. The quadrant allows for the possibility that research can be high in both basic and applied values.
The committee is sympathetic to this perspective. We envision the need for a comprehensive program of use-driven strategic research and development focused on issues of improving classroom learning and teaching. The facts that schools and classrooms are the focus and that enhanced practice and learning are the desired goals render the program of research no less important with respect to advancing the theoretical base for how people learn. Indeed, many of the advances described in How People Learn are the product of use-inspired research and development focused on solving problems of classroom practice.
It is worth noting that a wide array of quantitative and qualitative methods drawn from the behavioral and social sciences are employed in education research. The methods often vary with the nature of the learning and teaching problem studied and the level of detail at which issues are pursued. Given the complexity of educational issues in real-world contexts in which variables are often difficult to control, the types of "use-inspired" research that we envision will necessarily demand a variety of methods. These will range from controlled designs to case studies, with analytic methods for deriving conclusions and inferences including both quantitative and qualitative procedures of substantial rigor. To build an effective bridge between research and practice, such a multiplicity of methods is not only reasonable, it is essential. No single research method can suffice.