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Defining Research Capabilities

The TELRI Project has focused on the cognitive skills of researchers, defined some of them, and suggested how they can be developed and assessed. The educational framework described here is intended to provide a general insight into some of the dynamics of learning observed and experienced by academics and students in higher level learning. They reflect and extend established educational theories of learning and effective teaching and learning practices.

At the heart of contemporary discussion on transferable skills is a wish to identify capabilities that have a wide application and to develop them through the curriculum. Cognitive skills are particularly important in enabling the transfer of capability from one situation to another, both because they are less context-dependent than some other human abilities often referred to as skills, and because they can themselves aid transfer. There would be wide agreement that they are transferable, at least within a discipline.

Research activity by its nature provides opportunities for innovation that develop higher cognitive capabilities and foster creativity. We have termed these ?research capabilities?. We argue that course design should aim at the development of those higher order learning processes. Apart from the obvious benefits, it is believed that research-orientated learning is likely to develop students? abilities to transfer their learning processes into new situations, so that they can develop as experts rather than as competent practitioner.

We draw a distinction between competence and expertise by highlighting two learning processes that we believe to be complementary and mutually supportive. The first is essentially a reproductive process and is appropriate after a situation has been defined, which we have termed "adoptive learning". It requires the application of well-understood knowledge and the mastery of tools, techniques and procedures in bounded situations. Adoptive learning can produce immediately impressive results but may be less transferable to other, less familiar situations. The second makes use of higher order thinking in more open situations, which requires and develops higher cognitive processes and is inherently a creative, generative and reflective process. We have termed this "adaptive learning". (You may have come across these terms used differently elsewhere; we ask you to accept our usage for convenience in the distinctions in learning processes we aim to make.)

Individuals whose professions require the rigorous application of a discipline, such as researchers, are highly effective in adaptive learning and are potentially well placed both to assist others in developing similar expertise and to assess the presence of such capabilities in others. These guidelines therefore aim to assist academic staff and course developers in designing effective courses and enhancing existing course quality, to benefit students in their learning both at university and beyond.