Moving beyond description: Research that helps improve teaching and learning

Wendy McMillan


This paper is premised on the assumption that education research, in order to be relevant, needs to generate explanations that have educational significance and applicability. It argues that much of the health sciences education research showcased at conferences falls short of generating explanations that have practical applicability because the reported studies do not move beyond description. The paper suggests ways in which health professions educators might move beyond description in order to generate explanations of teaching and learning that can be used to inform ‘best practice’ in education. The paper commences with a discussion of the role of theory in education research. Three forms of theory are identified – personal theoretical assumptions, theory from literature, and generation of theory from research. The paper highlights the limitations of research without theory and the role that theory might play in generating understandings of teaching and learning. Practical ways to ensure theoretical rigor in education research are suggested.

Author's affiliations

Wendy McMillan, Faculty of Dentistry, UWC

Full Text

PDF (351KB)


qualitative research; research design

Cite this article

African Journal of Health Professions Education 2010;2(1):3.

Article History

Date submitted: 2010-07-13
Date published: 2010-08-13

Article Views

Abstract views: 9963
Full text views: 4263

Comments on this article

*Read our policy for posting comments here