In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cross-National Research on Continuous Improvement

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Research in National Contexts
  • Research Centers and Organizations

Education Cross-National Research on Continuous Improvement
Franz Koranyi, Nina Kolleck
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0237


Effectiveness and improvement have become key terms in educational research. However, cross-national research applies different approaches to providing knowledge for improvement along with divergent assumptions for change. Most frequently, continuous improvement refers to systemic inquiry, involving practitioners’ knowledge of daily work problems. It thereby seeks to develop, implement, revise, and adapt interventions with the aim of becoming part of regular work routines (see General Overviews). Based on short-cycled, multiple tests of small changes in various contexts, continuous improvement research develops education solutions on scale. For continuous improvement, the Model of Improvement is fundamental and consists of three questions: What are we trying to accomplish? How will we know that a change is an improvement? What changes can we make that will result in improvement? And there is the lan-do-study-act cycle. Continuous improvement relies on systems theory and methods of design-based implementation research. It conceptualizes improvement processes based on a context-based theory of change (see Theoretical Framework and Approaches). Researchers apply various models such as Six Sigma, planned experimentation, and data-based inquiry (see Model and Tools). Furthermore, research in continuous improvement involves cross-sector collaboration between research, education institutions, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) (see Cross-Sector Collaboration). Continuous improvement has become an international phenomenon that refers not only to a strong research base in the United States but also to other research initiatives worldwide (see Research in National Contexts). This article covers several relevant aspects of continuous, practitioner-focused, and cyclical improvement processes in education that have been discussed in cross-national contexts. While the list of references is not exhaustive, it aims to provide a point of entry to this emerging field.

General Overviews

The following introductory texts provide information on the science of improvement. Books and articles are not only from the field of education but stem from various disciplines, including manufacturing, technology, and health care. Health-care research in particular has strongly inspired the development of continuous improvement in education and offers seminal sources discussed in Perla, et al. 2013. More specifically for the field of education, Donovan 2013 and Lewis 2015 deal with definitions, significance, and the implementation process of continuous improvement. An important resource and general introduction to the practical implementation of continuous improvement is Langley, et al. 2009.

  • Donovan, M. Suzanne. 2013. Generating improvement through research and development in education systems. Science 340.6130: 317–319.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1236180

    This review outlines key arguments for continuous improvement such as a “knowing-doing gap” between research-based knowledge and daily practice in education. Furthermore, three main components of continuous improvement are identified: identifying the right problem, developing effective solutions, and getting effective solutions to spread. The process is illustrated with numerous examples from the fields of education, business management, and medicine.

  • Langley, Gerald J., Ronald D. Moen, Kevin M. Nolan, Thomas W. Nolan, Clifford L. Norman, and Lloyd P. Provost. 2009. The improvement guide: A practical approach to enhancing organizational performance. 2d ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    The improvement guide offers both a well-grounded introduction to theoretical foundations and a detailed catalogue of practical methods and applications of continuous improvement (mainly in a business context). It is a valuable point of entry for researchers, students, and practitioners alike.

  • Lewis, Catherine. 2015. What is improvement science? Do we need it in education? Educational Researcher 44.1: 54–61.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X15570388

    This essay contrasts an experimental study design based on a randomized controlled trial with an improvement study design to sharpen the profile of continuous improvement. Furthermore, two detailed studies conducted in the United States and Japan illustrate the potential of improvement science in education. Useful for researchers seeking an elaborated account on definitions of continuous improvement as well as arguments for its relevance to research in education.

  • Perla, Rocco J., Lloyd P. Provost, and Gareth J. Parry. 2013. Seven propositions of the science of improvement: Exploring foundations. Quality Management in Health Care 22.3: 170–186.

    DOI: 10.1097/QMH.0b013e31829a6a15

    This article reviews the history of improvement science in the US context in general terms and defines related concepts. To narrow down the meaning of improvement science, the article develops seven propositions regarding basic underpinnings and ideas. This source is an excellent introduction to the field of continuous improvement.

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