Research on HRD Research

By Toppins, Anne D. | Training & Development Journal, October 1989 | Go to article overview

Research on HRD Research


Toppins, Anne D., Training & Development Journal


Research on HRD Research

Who's doing the academic research in HRD? Let's take a look at the standard profile. In colleges and universities, the average researcher is a male in the field of education. He is either a graduate student or a professor. As you might expect from an educator, his research focuses on some aspect of training and development. His research is not funded. The method he uses to study his topic is descriptive rather than experimental.

That's what a recent study of academic programs showed. The study, sponsored by the HRD Professors' Network and funded by ASTD, was designed to determine the current status of research in HRD. The network sent surveys to the programs listed in the ASTD national academic database; it received information about 135 research projects. The responses suggest wide variance in the definition of HRD research and many differences in interpreting terms common to research literature.

The survey

The survey asked the contact person listed at each institution to report the current HRD research of faculty members and graduate students. The institutions that did not respond to the first mailing received follow-up letters. Of the 213 programs contacted, 72 responded. Ten of the programs reported no current research. The rest provided information on a total of 135 projects; those data provide a good profile of current HRD research in academia.

The survey instrument asked what areas of human resource practice were involved, the research methodology, the focus of each project, the major topics of literature reviewed as background material, and the findings or projected outcomes of the research. The instrument also requested funding information and basic demographic data on the researchers.

Eighty-eight (65 percent) of the projects were reported by male researchers, 33 (24 percent) were reported by females, and 14 (10 percent) were undesignated.

Area of HR practice

Respondents named the area of human-resource practice related to their research projects; the list from which they chose was from McLagan's human resource wheel in Models for Excellence (1983), with the addition of career development.

As you can see in Figure 1, the respondents reported research in all 10 areas, but the highest number (36 percent) listed training and development. Other areas listed in at least 10 percent of the responses were organization development, career development, human-resource planning, and selection and staffing. Respondents for 64 of the projects checked only one area; the others indicated that their research concentrated on two or more areas.

Research methodology

The survey asked the respondents to name th research methodology they used (see Figure 2), based on the methodologies described by Miller and Barnett in The How-To Handbook on Doing Research in HRD (1986). Of the nine methodologies, the one used most ofte was descriptive, followed by theoretical model building. Eight percent of those surveyed listed a methodology other than the nine provided. Respondents for 87 of the projects used a single research methodology; the rest used more than one method for each project. …

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