According to Dr. Andrew H. Van de Ven’s 2007 book on the topic, engaged scholarship is “a participative form of research for obtaining the different perspectives of key stakeholders (researchers, users, clients, sponsors, and practitioners) in studying complex problems.” This approach is useful in addressing contemporary organizational problems, because it combines rigorous academic research with real-world market experience. Simply stated, it’s research in practice. Using this type of collaborative approach is valuable for training organizations and higher education institutions for four critical reasons:

1. Scientific Rigor

Higher education establishments approach exploration with a primary responsibility toward research integrity. Academic research is structurally rigorous and committed to objectivity. As a result, these examinations result in detailed, well-supported findings. Moreover, they often not only contribute to the target area of research but also have additional applications. For example, the Situational Leadership® model, now used by many training companies and internal learning and development (L&D) organizations, was a byproduct of Dr. Paul Hersey’s doctoral research.

2. Low-risk Experimentation

Another benefit of collaborating with higher education establishments is low-risk experimentation. Although they’re not absolved from market pressures, college and university environments typically prioritize the learning process over competitive market requirements. Consequently, what may seem like a market failure in a corporate environment may be considered a valuable lesson in an academic one.

This commitment to low-risk experimentation with the intent to learn can serve as a potent contribution from academia to corporate environments. Effective leadership training, for instance, is often birthed out of rigorous academic research. However, left to itself, academic research can sometimes fail the test of daily application and meaningful use.

3. Practical Use

For academic institutions, a benefit of partnering with professional training organizations is the insights gained from immediate and prolonged practical application. Higher education organizations’ customer base consists primarily of students, many of whom are enrolled in learning full time and are, therefore, not immediately using their classroom studies to solve real-world problems.

In the United States, the most largest percentage of college students are between the ages of 20 and 21. These students often don’t bring a lot of work experience into the classroom, leading to mostly theoretical discussions that use case studies to replicate challenges facing businesses. In contrast, corporate training environments are primarily composed of students who are working full time; as a result, the time from lesson-learned to lesson-applied may be measured in hours, not years. The average age of the corporate training student is also typically higher than the average age of the college student; these learners enrich the classroom discussion as they challenge their peers and trainers to apply the course material to their current challenges. The proximity of the corporate training student to the marketplace enhances the classroom environment and helps anticipate customers’ future needs.

4. Market Exposure

Training organizations also contribute to engaged scholarship because their lessons are immediately subject to competitive market forces. Although students can transfer from one academic institution to another, the barriers to do so are more restrictive given factors such as tuition and graduation requirements. The cost of switching between one professional training institution and another is considerably lower. As such, vocational training is viewed as an investment with an expectation of short-term return. If training participants fail to see the content as valuable, they will quickly reallocate their use of funds. This competitiveness forces corporate training organizations to be highly responsive to customer needs and to demonstrate value.

Partnering with higher education institutions can augment both parties’ strengths to enhance the overall value proposition of the solution: Effective training benefits from the combination of well-researched academic models delivered in close alignment with practical use. By collaborating with corporate training organizations, higher education institutions can gain access and feedback from both frontline managers and practitioners. This feedback is not only helpful in contributing to objective research, but it is also meaningful in considering the immediate and future application of the findings.

By cooperating with academic institutions, corporate training professionals can identify opportunities to participate in useful research that can enlighten their industry understanding and present opportunities to create unique value for their customers. Engaged scholarship is a participative research approach that conjoins academic and commercial needs. Professor and practitioner alike benefit from this approach to collaborative problem-solving, which ultimately benefits the learner, too.

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