implementation research early childhood education
implementation research early childhood education

Implementation research in early childhood educational settings

Leading Education
Early Childhood

Every leader knows that context will influence pedagogical practice. In Australia, early childhood education has been through a decade of unprecedented change with many calls on new and innovative ways of teaching and learning. Implementation research presents an opportunity to evaluate innovations in teaching and learning approaches and strategies – before they are accepted, adapted or rejected.

Based on the philosophy that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to education, implementation research has evolved into a process for studying educational theories, approaches and strategies. It’s a process that can help create lasting change for children and educators alike. 



Implementation research explained

Implementation research is the analysis of the theories, strategies, and processes used by practitioners, policymakers and researchers. Change has been constant in early childhood education, so implementation research assists in the review of the effectiveness of innovations. When applied to early childhood education, the goal of implementation research is to improve the educational outcomes for children and their families.

Implementation research asks some very blunt and basic questions, such as:

  • What are we doing? And why? 
  • Is it working? How do we know?
  • Who is it working for? Are some children privileged by this way of working or are some children silenced?
  • Where is it working? 
  • How is it working? Does this way of working have unintended consequences?
  • Why is it working? Can this success be transferred to other areas of teaching and learning?


The real beauty of implementation research is that it can be conducted in everyday settings, making it available to all early childhood educators. As a result, it can be applied at a micro level to reflect on a personal, classroom or school setting – or it can be applied at a macro level to inform, advise and drive policymakers.

For educational leaders, it’s an opportunity to assess how effectively educational practices are carried out and whether or not they are the most effective practice for a particular setting. For educators, implementation research can provide the evidence required to make the case for pedagogical change and assist in describing their practice to others.

Childhood research must be ethical

Existing research on early childhood education can be found in a number of locations, including educational publications, peer-reviewed journals and ECU’s Early Childhood Research Group. Resources such as these will define their approach to research to help you determine if the information was sourced ethically or not.

If you are conducting your own research, it’s important to employ ethical research principles which include respect, research merit, justice and beneficence. Respect involves obtaining informed consent from all participants and acknowledging children’s agency. The merit of the research takes into consideration the risks to participants and the potential benefits of outcomes. Justice ensures that no group will be disadvantaged by the research. Beneficence is the expectation that the research will generate a tangible benefit – the concept of doing no harm is simply not enough.

Ethical research principles are at the heart of early childhood education philosophies that highlight the importance of respectful relationships and the rights of the child. The ethical commitments that educators make to children and cognisant of research with and on behalf of children are enshrined in the Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics. The philosophies, as mentioned above, are captured in the Early Years Learning Framework as part of the Australian Government’s National Quality Framework for early childhood education and care.

Implementation research generally takes place in an educational setting, which brings some additional ethical considerations. There are three main factors to think about here – informed consent from parents, assent from children where possible and the power dynamics between adults and children. While parents may give informed consent for their child to participate, it’s important the child is asked where possible if they would like to participate. Power dynamics can make children vulnerable to exploitation by adults in research, so educators must know how to manage this in fair and equitable ways.



How to implement research

One of the key motivations for implementing research is to establish whether an innovation achieves its desired outcome. In the past, educational innovations have been viewed as processes that can be replicated if a practitioner knows how they work. As early childhood educators know, variables such as administrative structures, access to resources and organisational capabilities can all influence the effectiveness of any teaching practice. As a result, the success or failure of an educational innovation can’t be determined by its performance in another context.

To answer the blunt and basic questions of implementation research listed above, it’s essential to start by identifying the context of your research. Highlight contextual factors that differ from those that existed during the evidence development of your chosen innovation. These differences may influence the answers to the implementation research questions as well as the effectiveness of the innovation.

The value of implementation research

The National Quality Standard for early education and care is mandated in Australia and is gaining momentum to be used in primary schools as it is in Western Australia. As it is applied in different environments, implementation research is an effective way to evaluate success. To execute implementation research effectively, ECU’s Master of Education offers an Early Childhood Education specialty, which will enable you to increase your research skills and leverage career opportunities.

With a focus on leading early childhood pedagogy and practice, this postgraduate degree empowers educators to initiate pedagogical change in their educational organisations. You’ll develop the skills to analyse evidence-based innovations and the dialogue to effect real change. Most importantly, you’ll gain a deep understanding of implementation research for evaluating the impact of change.

The Master of Education will also open up career opportunities by developing your leadership abilities – whether you’re seeking to lead an educational team, play a greater role in your setting or community, or influence early childhood education policy.

Find out more about how to become an expert by studying a Master of Education, Early Childhood Specialisation.