Implementation science for higher education

The relatively new scientific discipline of implementation science aims to bridge the gap between science and practice. Soicher et al., 2020 wrote an introduction to implementation science for higher education. Below I briefly summarize their paper. 

The purpose of implementation science 

Implementation science originally emerged in health care and after that was also applied in the psychotherapy setting. In the context of higher education, it means the study of the methods used to promote the integration of research findings into classroom practice and education policy. 

The goal of implementation science is to build up knowledge about how methods that have previously been proven effective can be put into practice. This is extremely important. There are many evidence-based methods and interventions that are not yet known to many teachers and policymakers and are in any case not yet applied effectively. 

Which questions does implementation science answer? 

Implementation science is not about researching the effectiveness of certain interventions and methods. It is about how proven effective interventions and methods can be implemented (read more here and here). In implementation science, questions such as the following are central. 

How can you ensure that people in practice: 

  • … know for whom, why and when they can use the method? 
  • … are able to implement the method in such a way that it is actually effective? 
  • … continue to use the method? 
  • … organize the context in such a way that it supports the effects of the method? 
  • … know how to deploy the intervention efficiently and effectively on a large scale? 

How to get started with implementation science? 

Soicher et al. Make four suggestions for getting implementation science off the ground in higher education: 

  1. See teachers as scientist-educators: encourage teachers to see themselves and be seen as evidence-based practitioners who keep up with scientific findings. Scientists can support them as advisers and trainers. In addition, teachers play an important supporting role towards science by identifying new issues and problems for which evidence-based solutions are required. 
  2. Conduct research through pragmatic-controlled trials: through practical research, knowledge can be built up about moderator variables (under which circumstances, for whom and when do the methods work to what extent?) And mediating variables (through which mechanisms do the methods work?) 
  3. Use a planning-and-evaluation framework: use a systematic approach to develop, manage and evaluate methods / interventions. An example of such an approach is the RE-AIM framework, but there are many others.
  4. Improve the transparency of research reports: to bridge the gap between science and practice, the transparency of research reports must be improved. This includes pre-registering research, making reports publicly and free of charge, reporting in detail about the way in which interventions were carried out and about the context within which the research was carried out. 


Good higher education is of great importance to any society. It is a prerequisite for being able to solve all kinds of complex problems we face and the basis for the future prosperity of societies. The more effectively higher education is organized, the better. The use of evidence-based methods plays an essential role in this. 

It is not enough to know which teaching methods and interventions work. It is also necessary to know how to make these available to practitioners. Only when they know how to apply the methods, when and for which students can use them, can we bridge the gap between science and practice. Implementation science is an important link in this.