Dissemination With Impact: What Research Suggests for Practice In Career and Technical Education

Publication January 2001

The purpose of this review is to examine what we know about dissemination, based on both the literature that refers specifically to Career and Technical Education (CTE), and that which is drawn from education and related fields. Ricketts’ (1982) literature review indicated that research on the dissemination of vocational education products was “slightly negative to strongly negative,” and that “[T]he understanding of dissemination’s role in the process of innovation and change is much too weak” (p. 3). After reviewing the published literature in the field, it appears that his assessment nearly two decades ago cannot be easily challenged. Thus, our purpose is to introduce issues that may advance the CTE dissemination field, rather than to validate current “best practice.”

Research on dissemination in vocational, career, and technical education is limited. A search of ERIC for all years that included dissemination as a keyword produced a list of over 16,562 documents. Of these, only 1,295 also included the keywords vocational, career, or technical education, and many of these are the regular series of government abstracts of research (ARM). Furthermore, most of the research on dissemination in vocational education occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, while it has continued as a stronger theme in education in general. In the past decade, only nine journal articles that mention dissemination have been published in vocational education journals, and in most of these, dissemination is addressed as an implication or minor topic, rather than as central.

Yet, interest in dissemination and knowledge use on the part of federal agencies is increasing, after a period of neglect. Not only is there a funded dissemination center in vocational education, but there is also a dissemination theme in the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. This increased emphasis is not surprising: The quality and quantity of research in vocational education, as in other educational fields, has increased markedly and has significant implications for practice. At the same time, the public is concerned that career and technical education programs are under-performing, and CTE educators are energetically engaged in efforts to redefine the field to put it at the center of new visions for American education. This review will, as a consequence, be wide-ranging, and will incorporate ideas about dissemination from other fields within education, and occasionally from outside of education.

In all cases, our intent is to provide a link between the state of CTE today, and what is known about how best to get research (or promising programs and strategies that have been validated) into practice in multiple settings. First, we define what we mean by dissemination in order to more clearly identify the parameters of this review. Second, we provide a brief overview of federal efforts to promote dissemination of research-based information in education. Based on these two sections, we turn to the topic of defining some of the roles of disseminators and users. In the fourth and fifth sections of the paper we turn to the relationship between dissemination and knowledge use, and look at some of the empirically tested theories about when and where research gets into practice. The sixth and seventh sections address unresolved quandaries in dissemination and knowledge use that often preoccupy both researchers and disseminators: How useable is “educational knowledge?” How does educational knowledge influence policy? How do the specific characteristics of the settings that are targeted for dissemination and use affect the likelihood of success? Finally, we turn to some implications for dissemination policy and practice.

Louis, K. S., & Jones, L. M. (2001). Dissemination with impact: What research suggests for practice in career and technical education. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota.

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