Generally, L&D professionals ask themselves the question: “How can I deliver services as quickly as possible in accordance with the wishes of the customer?” On the other hand, others ask a more fundamental question: “Does the service actually work?” To determine the effectiveness of any service, the L&D professional looks for scientific evidence. Scientific evidence will help decision-making about learning services. The question is, is this evidence-based or evidence-informed? 

This article discusses the difference between evidence-based and evidence-informed, teaching you how to determine the effectiveness of any learning service, by aiding the decision-making process. 

This blog is a short extract of the book: Show me the Value: Creating Value-Based L&D.(1)

Evidence-Based Medicine

For physicians, evidence-based medicine is the norm and can be described as striving to base diagnosis and treatment on scientific research.(2) Guidelines and protocols for diagnosis and treatment exist on the basis of evidence-based medicine.

This increases the quality of diagnostics and treatment and supports the culture to improve existing practice, guidelines and protocols. It also helps to renew each of these based on (new) scientific research.

Evidence-based research is also used by doctors to develop a better do-not-do list.(3) Under the motto: “if it does not help, it will harm,” the university medical centers in the Netherlands are working together to build this list of 1,300 pointless medical procedures for the time being.(4) Similar programs are running in the US and other countries.(5) The better do-not-do list supports physicians in making informed choices about implementation or omitting diagnostics and therapy.(3) Doing nothing is certainly an option if it is scientifically proven that a certain treatment does not work or is even harmful. The better do-not-do listis good for the patient and the doctors and is cost-effective. Nurses have developed similar initiatives.(6)

Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Medicine has been working with evidence-based processes and work for more than 100 years. There is much to learn for educational science from the approaches medical science has been taking for many years. For example, in medical science, despite the lively debate, the principle of evidence-based medicine is not under discussion. There are, however, questions about how to improve scientific research, how to guarantee the autonomy of doctors, how to guarantee patient participation and so on.(7)

Moreover, there is still a lot of work to be done, because around half of current diagnosis and treatment is not (yet) evidence-based.

Evidence-Informed Educational Science

It is difficult to compare educational science with medicine in terms of the disciplines and possibilities for scientific research. Tougher scientific research is the norm in medical practice. An example of this is the randomized controlled trial method(6) with quantitative outcomes.

Educational science is a social science and measuring effects are more difficult due to changing circumstances and studies that cannot be repeated (under comparable, controlled conditions.) In evidence-based research, processes are more rigorous and outcomes more distinct. It is also possible to use treatment guidelines and protocols for better outcomes.

Restraint is important in educational sciences because the research is less rigorous. That is why Margaret Adolphus talks about ‘evidence-informed’ research. This refers to scientific research in educational sciences as the basis for decision-making about the effectiveness of learning solutions.(9) ‘Evidence-based’ provides fairly hard results, so that doctors can use research to develop with guidelines for care provision. ‘Evidence-informed’ is less hard, but still very useful with a higher chance of success if applied.

Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner articulate the importance of evidence-informed work as follows:

Use the evidence to increase your knowledge and expertise so that you can have conversations with clients or partners, parents and colleague teachers, directors or school principals/headmasters, and so further on WHY you recommend certain design decisions. It will improve your expertise, our value in organizations, and, the most important our designs so that our learners can learn more effectively, efficiently, and enjoyably!(10)

In the corporate learning world (L&D) there is a practice that leading professionals contribute and actively recommend evidence-informed work. Some examples of well-known representatives (this list is not evidence-informed):

How To Promote Evidence-Informed Working?

It is no exaggeration to state that the practice of corporate learning (L&D) is still far removed from consistent evidence-informed research and work. Take, for example, the persistent myth about learning styles that have existed for many decades. Scientifically, there is no evidence that people learn better when the instruction is tailored to someone’s learning preference or style.(11) Nevertheless, Nancekiell points out that in many countries 80 to 95% of education professionals and people, in general, believe that learning styles matter to educators.(12) It seems difficult for scientific evidence to penetrate into L&D practices. In this case, despite the many articles and tweets from scientists and L&D professionals that learning styles are not effective.

In addition to learning styles, there are more myths in education that are relevant to L&D professionals. Two more examples are:

  • Self-discovery learning(13) (insufficient evidence) versus direct instruction (lots of evidence.)(14)
  • People remember 10% of what they read (no evidence of the percentages and misuse of Dale’s Cone of experience.)(15)

More information about myths is available on the website of the Debunker Club, a welcome initiative to promote evidence-informed working within L&D.(16)

As is often the case in evidence-informed work, it is clear that being accepted practice is not the same as being right. Below are four recommendations to promote evidence-informed L&D practice.

Recommendation 1: Unlocking Research And Identifying Myths

The proceeds of scientific research are not always accessible to L&D professionals in practice. This has to do with pressure, focus (work in progress), background knowledge and the often-inaccessible nature of research studies. That is why it is to be welcomed that more and more books, articles and blogs are being published to make the academic knowledge of educational sciences accessible to a larger audience. People such as Patti Shank and Will Thalheimer, among others, put a lot of effort into making academic knowledge available for L&D practice.(17)

Signaling of myths often goes on through social media (Twitter, LinkedIn.) The nature of the messages varies greatly. Signaling can easily be done by pointing out to people that, for example, learning styles are not effective or that direct instruction works better than self-discovery learning. In fact, the signaling function is intended to support people to work in a more evidence-informed way. This is not always reflected in the tone of social media expressions. Tweets and other messages are occasionally characterized by frustration, cynicism, irritation or personal attacks. This is dysfunctional and does not fit with the principles of educational sciences, where development is core business—and this applies not least to the development of evidence-informed L&D practice.

Recommendation 2: Integrate Into Education

The L&D function in organizations can be found throughout the world. As a result, there are different systems of training in every country and continent that qualify people to work as a trainer, coach, educationalist, educational technologist, learning data analyst and so on. The field of study of training is broad and diverse. Moreover, the large multinationals particularly employ not only people professionally qualified in L&D roles to develop formal educational services.

This makes the challenge of working in evidence-informed ways even greater.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to integrate evidence-informed work into educational qualifications for L&D professionals. This is an important task and responsibility at the national level.

Recommendation 3: Implement And De-Implement In Practice

Collaboration is required to bring evidence-informed educational sciences to L&D practice. This can be done by giving scientists, professional associations, policymakers, managers and L&D professionals their own role and responsibility in initiatives such as the following:

  • Policy and practical promotion that evidence-informed working is the new standard for L&D practice.
  • Developing a database (copy from the doctors) (18) with an overview of the evidence-informed learning solutions to support L&D professionals in practice.
  • Give L&D professionals access to online databases of scientific publications.
  • Pay attention to de-implementation through a better do-not-do list drawn up to reduce inappropriate learning solutions. Work smarter by copying by doctors and nurses.(19)

Recommendation 4: Work Together With Other Scientific Disciplines

Learning in organizations is not limited to educational sciences. Professionals do not only learn in an educational setting but also by working (together.)(20) Learning is also not limited to individuals. Organizations (teams and individuals) also learn and that affects disciplines such as knowledge management(21), economics(22), and organizational development(23). Evidence-informed working can benefit from the output of scientific research in other disciplines.

The proponents of evidence-informed educational science form the basis for the further professionalization of our field. That is also necessary because, according to Clark Quinn, there is still a world to be gained with regard to the quality of designing, implementing and evaluating learning solutions.(24)

To this end, it is necessary to join forces and to support L&D practice through a coherent set of measures to make evidence-informed working the new standard. This goes further than merely signaling that L&D is not yet working well, or not sufficiently evidence-informed. This is a responsibility for everyone who wants to contribute to a golden future for L&D in organizations.



  1. Arets, J.(in press) Show me the Value: Creating Value-Based L&D. Maastricht: 70:20:10 Institute press.
  2. Evidence-based medicine (EBM) is an approach to medical practice intended to optimize decision-making by emphasizing the use of evidence from well-designed and well-conducted research. Although all medicine based on science has some degree of empirical support, EBM goes further, classifying evidence by its epistemologic strength and requiring that only the strongest types (coming from meta-analysessystematic reviews, and randomized controlled trials) can yield strong recommendations; weaker types (such as from case-control studies) can yield only weak recommendations. On: Wikipedia: June 28, 2019).
  3. Wammes, J. J. G., van den Akker-van Marle, M. E., Verkerk, E. W., van Dulmen, S. A., Westert, G. P., van Asselt, A. D. I., & Kool, R. B. (2016). Identifying and prioritizing lower value services from Dutch specialist guidelines and a comparison with the UK do-not-do list. BMC Medicine, 14(1), 196. On: June 26, 2019).
  4. Consult the website of the program Doen of laten? More background information about this Dutch study: On: (Viewed on June 10, 2019).
  5. Berwick DM, Hackbarth AD. Eliminating Waste in US Health Care. JAMA. 2012;307(14):1513–1516. On: doi:10.1001/jama.2012.362. (Viewed June 26, 2019).
  6. For more information: June 25, 2019)
  7. The debate about evidence medicine is lively and these articles illustrate this.
    –       Horwitz, R. I., & Singer, B. H. (2017). Why evidence-based medicine failed in patient care and medicine-based evidence will succeed. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 84, 14–17. On: (Viewed June 2019).
    –       Horwitz, R. I., & Singer, B. H. (2017). Why evidence-based medicine failed in patient care and medicine-based evidence will succeed. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 84, 14–17.  On: (Viewed June 2019). 
    –       Wyer, P. and Alves da Silva, S. (2015), Born‐again EBM. J Eval Clin Pract, 21: E1-E10. On doi:10.1111/jep.12492(Viewed June 2019).
    –       Kelly, M. P., Heath, I., Howick, J., & Greenhalgh, T. (2015). The importance of values in evidence-based medicine. BMC Medical Ethics, 16(1), 69.
  9. Adolphus, M. Evidence-informed approaches to teaching: what’s the evidence? On: (Viewed June 28, 2019).
  10. Neelen, M, Kirschner, P. (2018) Designing learning experiences in an evidence-informed way. On: (Viewed May 2019). 
  11. Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105–119. On: June 2019).
    Truong, H. M. (2015). Integrating learning styles and adaptive e-learning system: Current developments, problems and opportunities. Computers in Human Behavior. Advance online publication. On:, June 2019)
  12. Nancekivell, S. E., Shah, P., & Gelman, S. A. (2019, May 30). Maybe They’re Born With It, or Maybe It’s Experience: Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Learning Style Myth. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. On: June 2019). 
  13. More information about constructivism via:
  14. Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. On: May 2019).
  15. In this blog by Will Thalheimer an overview of articles about the lack of evidence. On: June 2019). 
  17. Will Thalheimer ( with many relevant resources (articles, blogs and books), Patti Shank ( with excellent books to bring research to the L&D practice. 
  18. This is the Dutch guideline database (in English) for doctors:
  19. EW Verkerk, MAC Tanke, RB Kool, SA van Dulmen, GP Westert. Limit, lean or listen? A typology of low-value care that gives direction in de-implementation. Int J Qual Health Care. 2018;30(9):736-739. 
    EW Verkerk, G Huisman-de Waal, H Vermeulen, GP Westert, RB Kool, SA van Dulmen. Low-value care in nursing: A systematic assessment of clinical practice guidelines. Int J Nurs Stud. 2018 Nov;87: 34-39. 
    Dutch version of doing or not doing in healthcare? 
  20. De Grip, A. The importance of informal learning at work. On:
    De Laat, M. (2012). Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you? Heerlen: Open Universiteit
  21. North, K. & G. Kumta. (2018). Knowledge Management: Value Creation Through Organizational Learning. Berlin: Springer.
  22. Stigilitz, J.E. & B.C. Greenwald. (2014). Creating a Learning Society. A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress. New York: Columbia University Press. 
  23. Edmonson, A.C. (2018). The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth. New Jersey” John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  24. Quinn, C. (2014). Revolutionize Learning & Development. Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons Inc.