JVER v26n1 - Formulating and Evaluating Theoretical Frameworks for Career and Technical Education Research

Volume 26, Number 1

Formulating and Evaluating Theoretical Frameworks for Career and Technical Education Research

William G. Camp
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Increasingly, reviewers for research journals and other venues for reporting research are demanding clearly articulated theoretical frameworks in manuscripts under consideration for publication or presentation. Yet, if one examines the articles published in the major journals in our field and attends the research sessions at the annual AVERA meetings, one must conclude that there is a general lack of agreement on what is meant by theoretical framework. The author examines the theoretical literature on the relationship between theory and research from the perspective of the researcher. He presents succinct examples from the career and technical education literature of theoretical frameworks at the level of grand theory, middle range theory, and substantive theory. He argues that an adequate theoretical framework for a research study can be built at any of those three levels. He contends that writers who present conceptual frameworks for their studies are actually referring to theoretical frameworks at the level of substantive theory and argues against using the term "conceptual framework" in that context. This article is based on the author's Presidential Address at the AVERA Annual Meeting in December 2000.

Formulating and Evaluating Theoretical Frameworks for Career and Technical Education Research

Kerlinger ( 1979 ) emphasized the importance of objectivity in science. He insisted "its (objectivity) implementation makes it possible for scientists to test their ideas apart from themselves" ( pp. 8-9 ). In spite of attempts at objectivity, a researcher's preconceptions and biases inevitably surface in the design of research and in the interpretation of results. Cohen ( 1956 ) noted "every enquirer must begin not with a tabula rasa for the recording of fresh facts, but with a fund of information. Discoveries in nature are not made by those who follow Bacon's precept and rid themselves of all anticipations of nature. The man who knows nothing about the subject may be free of bias but he will not discover anything. The facts of human nature do not stream into empty minds" ( p. 170 ). Inevitably, the work of individual researchers will be guided by their own theoretical frameworks ( Marriam, 1998 ).


One of the most perplexing problems those of us who advise graduate students must continuously address is how to explain such esoteric concepts as the relationship between theory and research, theoretical frameworks, or as they are sometimes called conceptual frameworks. Moreover, as we prepare our own papers for presentation and manuscripts for review, establishing meaningful theoretical frameworks can be just as problematic. In general, a major stumbling block for many researchers in conceptualizing research is the development of an adequate theoretical framework for a study. Equally daunting is the problem of verbalizing the theoretical framework for the purposes of publication in the research literature.

Figure 1

Portions of review form for AVERA research meeting paper proposals.

1998 AVERA/AVA Research Paper Proposal Evaluation Form
Reviewer: __________________________ Proposal No. ________________
Title: Paper Title
Low High

Problem clearly defined
Problem significant to the profession
Theoretical Framework Developed
Appropriate literature cited

PURPOSE/OBJECTIVES 1     2     3     4     5
Purpose clear
Objectives, questions, or hypotheses clearly specified

METHODS AND/OR PROCEDURES, ANALYSIS 1     2     3     4     5

The first section of the review form for papers considered for the annual meeting of the American Vocational Education Research Association (AVERA) is "INTRODUCTION/ THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK." Under that heading, a separate bulleted item is "theoretical framework developed." See the 1998 review form shown partially in Figure 1. No guidance is provided for reviewers as to what "theoretical framework" means. The AVERA Journal of Vocational Education Research review form includes a similar item. Yet no rubric or instruction is provided regarding how to evaluate that item for either the paper session or journal reviewer.

The Journal of Agricultural Education provides its reviewers with little more guidance. An instruction sheet for reviewers accompanying each manuscript includes the following four questions:

  1. What is the research base for the manuscript?
  2. Does the theory lead to the problem, purpose and/or objectives, and the proposed solution?
  3. Is appropriate literature cited?
  4. Was a theoretical framework built? (J. Kotrlik, personal communication, December 1, 2000).

Problem and Purpose

The conceptualization, conduct, and publication of research require a clear understanding of the notion of theoretical frameworks. The review process for the research meetings and journals in career and technical education specifically require the evaluation of the theoretical framework of each manuscript considered. Yet, the guidance provided to our researchers, graduate students, and manuscript reviewers regarding theoretical frameworks is, at worst missing altogether, and at best negligible.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the concepts of theory and theoretical frameworks as they relate to research in career and technical education. To that end, let us consider the following general questions:

  • What is theory?
  • What is the relationship of theory and research?
  • What do we mean by theoretical framework for research?
  • How do we formulate a theoretical framework for a study?
  • How can we evaluate the adequacy of a theoretical framework for research?

What is Theory?

Certainly, such a question may seem almost trivial among members of the research community; nevertheless, it is still worth exploring. Indeed, the answer to that question is, as I often say to graduate students, "It all depends." In this case, the definition of theory depends on the researcher's conceptual paradigm.

Basic Premises

Creswell ( 1994 ) posited that theories could be grouped into three types based on the degree of the theory's generality or specificity. Grand theories are used to explain major categories of phenomena and are more common in the natural sciences. Middle-range theories fall somewhere between the working hypotheses of everyday life and grand theories. Substantive theories offer explanations in a restricted setting and are limited in scope, often being expressed as propositions or hypotheses.

Ary, Jacobs, and Razavieh ( 1990 ) posited that a theory must meet four criteria. First, it must add to our understanding of observed phenomena by explaining them in the simplest form possible. They refer to this characteristic as the principle of parsimony . It should fit cleanly with observed facts and with established principles. It should be inherently testable and verifiable. Finally, it should imply further investigations and predict new discoveries.

Creswell's ordering of theory based on its degree of generality or specificity will be very important later in this paper as we discuss formulating theoretical frameworks and as we examine the efficacy of the conceptual framework as a substitute for the theoretical framework. Ary, Jacobs, and Razavieh's criteria will form much of the basis for the discussion on evaluating theoretical frameworks later in this paper.

Quantitative Perspective: Theory is a Specification of Relationships

Kerlinger ( 1979 ) provided a perspective of "theory" appropriate for a quantitative researcher. He defined theory as "a set of interrelated constructs (variables), definitions, and propositions that present a systematic view of phenomena by specifying relations among variables, with the purpose of explaining natural phenomena" ( p. 64 ). Ary et al. ( 1990 ) described theory derived in this manner as a model that is built upon a "conceptual analog, generally of a physical or mathematical nature, which is used to suggest empirical research" ( p. 16 ).

Creswell ( 1994 ) elaborated on Kerlinger's definition by noting that the relationships among variables are typically stated in terms of magnitude and direction. He called this a systematic view of theory. He used the metaphor of a rainbow to explain this meaning of theory, explaining that theory provides a bridge between the independent and dependent variables or constructs at any given study. The bridge ties together the variables, thus providing an "overarching explanation for how and why one would expect the independent variable to explain or predict the dependent variable" ( pp. 82-83 ).

We might visualize this concept of theory as a path diagram where one or more variables impact upon one or more subsequent variables, perhaps in a complex temporal sequence. See Figure 2 for an illustration of a quantitative theory.

Figure 2
Graphic illustration of a quantitative theory.
Graphic illustration of a quantitative theory

In this illustration, a researcher might find support in the literature to hypothesize that a student's performance in college is predicted by his or her performance in high school. Performance in high school is predicted by parental income and education. This would be what Creswell calls a substantive theory.

Qualitative Perspective: Theory is an Explanation of Reality

Marriam ( 1998 ) approached the definition of theory from an operational perspective as a qualitative researcher. She wrote, "Thinking about data - theorizing - is a step toward developing a theory that explains some aspect of educational practice and allows a researcher to draw inferences about future activity. Theorizing is defined as ' the cognitive process of discovering or manipulating abstract categories and the relationships among those categories '" ( p. 188 ). According to this perspective, theory is seen as a result of inductive contemplation of observations made within the holistic context of naturalistic inquiry. Although she fails to provide a literal definition of theory, per se , she operationally describes theory as hypotheses that suggest links among categories and properties derived from the analysis of qualitative data.

Ary, Jacobs, and Razavieh ( 1990 ) described this approach to theory as inductive, and explained that in this form of theory building, mathematical or analog models are inappropriate because they would necessarily bias the researcher's data collection and analysis. Perhaps a graphic illustration of a theory in a qualitative research study might be useful here as well. See Figure 3.

Figure 3
Graphic illustration of a qualitative theory as it emerged from a qualitative study. The Teacher Proximity Continuum ( Camp & Heath-Camp, 1990 ).
Graphic illustration of a qualitative theory as it emerged from a qualitative study

This is an example of a theoretical explanation offered by a team of researchers who had examined the induction process of beginning career and technical teachers. After analyzing the qualitative data, they theorized that influences on the beginning teacher can be characterized based on the conceptual proximity to the teacher, beginning within the teacher in the form of internal factors and ranging outward to the educational system and finally to the community as a whole ( Camp & Heath-Camp, 1990 ).

Theory Defined: A Compromise

What then is theory? As a researcher with both qualitative and quantitative leanings, I like to start with Kerlinger's reductionist definition, but expand it to allow for naturalistic inquiry. Using the approach of compromise, we might define theory as a set of interrelated constructs, definitions, and propositions that present a rational view of phenomena by explaining or predicting relationships among those elements. For the purposes of this definition, the word rational is used to mean either mathematical/analog relationships or conceptual/holistic relationships. The joint functions of explaining or predicting can thus be viewed in either a mathematical or conceptual sense. Using this approach, theory may result from direct observation and measurement of variables or may arise from a contextual examination of the data itself. Moreover, such a broad definition allows theory either to precede and inform research or to emerge from and explain observations.

Role of Theory in Research

Kerlinger ( 1979 ) also addressed the relationship between theory and research quite clearly. According to him, " The purpose of science is theory " ( p. 15 ). His implication was that the fundamental purpose of science, and by extension, the fundamental purpose of research, is to create theoretical explanations of reality. Conversely, Marriam ( 1998 ) described theory as providing the conceptual basis for all research. Citing Becker ( 1993 ), Marriam noted, "We couldn't work at all if we didn't have at least an implicit theory of knowledge. We wouldn't know where to start" ( p. 45 ). Thus, we can infer a symbiotic relationship between theory and research. Theory provides context without which the research could not be meaningful and research generates and tests theory without which the theory would not have meaning. The two, theory and research, are each the sine qua non of the other.

Quantitative Perspective: Theory Guides Research; Research Leads to Theory

Best and Kahn ( 1993 ), whose definition of theory mirrors Kerlinger's, explained that the role of theory is to establish a "cause and effect relationship between variables with the purpose of explaining and predicting phenomena" ( p. 9 ).

Creswell ( 1994 ) wrote that quantitative research involves "an inquiry into a social or human problem, based on testing a theory composed of variables, measured with numbers, and analyzed with statistical procedures, in order to determine whether the predictive generalizations of the theory hold true" ( p. 2 ). Using this positivistic approach, researchers generate hypotheses as a means of prescribing methodology and analysis. Best and Kahn ( 1993 ) defined hypothesis as an "a formal affirmative statement predicting a single research outcome, a tentative explanation of the relationships between two or more variables" ( p. 11 ). This presumes a mathematical relationship among variables and provides that the ultimate goal of the research is to determine whether the hypothesis is supported by the data.

A graphic illustration of the role of theory in the quantitative research process might be helpful at this point. This illustration should show clearly that in quantitative research the theory is the starting point as well as the ending point. See figure 4.

Figure 4
Graphic illustration of the role of theory as both the starting and ending point in quantitative research.
Graphic illustration of the role of theory as both the starting and ending point in quantitative research

Qualitative Perspective: Theory Emerges from Research

Marriam ( 1998 ) described theory as growing from speculation of qualitative data and of value in research only as it provides theoretically grounded explanations of phenomena observed in a holistic context. From this perspective, theory is seen as providing explanation, not in a mathematical sense or as an analog model intended to predict future results, but rather in a contextual sense. Thus, explanation and prediction are viewed from a conceptual perspective. One would never derive an R2 from such theory.

Using a naturalistic approach, researchers may generate hypotheses, but as Marshall and Rossman ( 1989 ) explained, in this setting hypotheses are not tested; rather they are used to guide the development of questions to be asked and patterns for which to search. Marriam ( 1998 ) explained that in qualitative research, hypotheses are always tentative and are developed through use of a constant comparative analysis of data. Hypotheses emerge, according to her, simultaneously with the collection and analysis of data, rather than being stated in advance of data collection as occurs in quantitative research. For a graphic illustration of how theory emerges from qualitative research, see Figure 5.

Figure 5
Conceptual role of theory in the process of qualitative research.
Conceptual role of theory in the process of qualitative research

Role of Theory in Research: Another Compromise

Again, let us attempt to reconcile these two seemingly disparate positions. We can probably all agree that the purpose of science is indeed the development of theory; however, one can argue that the theory does not necessarily have to be in the form of an analog model, that the explanation need not be linear or mathematical, that the explanation need not be in terms of an R2, and that prediction need not be based on the use of a formula. In a quantitative perspective, theory guides research and research tests and confirms theory, in a symbiotic relationship. In qualitative research, theory emerges from research and offers explanations of reality, in a constructivist sense.

Combining the best of both perspectives, we might posit that the role of theory in research is to provide for the rational explanation of the interrelationships among constructs, definitions, and propositions and for the explanation of present conditions or prediction of future conditions in natural phenomena . As in the previous section, allow me to define rational, explanation, and prediction rather loosely. Just as critically, by this definition, theory can either precede research, derive from it, or both.

What is a Theoretical Framework?

Having addressed the definition of theory and explored its role in both qualitative and quantitative research, let us consider the next important question. What is a theoretical framework? Again, the answer to be found in the literature depends somewhat on the conceptual paradigm of the researcher.

Theoretical Framework: A Quantitative Perspective

Ary, Jacobs, and Razavieh ( 1990 ) noted that, "Education in particular has suffered from an absence of theoretical orientations; the main emphasis has been upon empiricism. Educators have been criticized for their continued concern with 'getting the facts' rather than finding out the 'why'" ( p. 19 ). They explained that, in its early development, a science must first gather facts through empiricism. They went on to say, "Only with maturity does science begin to integrate the isolated knowledge into a theoretical framework" ( p. 19 ).

In an effort to clarify the role of the theoretical framework for the practice of research in our field, members of the American Vocational Education Research Association (AVERA), acting as the Vocational Education Special Interest Group (SIG) of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) convened a Symposium on the Theoretical/Conceptual Framework in Vocational Education Research in conjunction with AERA's annual meeting in 1986. At that symposium, Warmbrod ( 1986 ) expanded on the definitions of theory put forth by Gage ( 1962 ) and Kerlinger ( 1979 ) to explain the concept of the theoretical framework as it relates to research in career and technical education. Warmbrod wrote, "I am assuming that we agree that a theoretical/conceptual framework can be defined as a systematic ordering of ideas about the phenomena being investigated or as a systematic account of the relations among a set of variables" ( p. 2 ). Warmbrod advised researchers in our field to emphasize the theoretical/conceptual framework in research as a means of focusing design and analysis procedures as well as to provide "structure and meaning to the interpretation of findings" ( p. 4 ).

According to Creswell ( 1994 ), the researcher examines the discipline-based literature related to the study topic as well as related studies in the research literature. From those sources, the researcher attempts to identify an overarching theory that "explains the central hypothesis or research question in the study" ( p. 90 ). Guiding that process, Creswell suggested the use of a "rainbow question" ( p. 90 ), seeking an understanding of why the independent variable(s) should be expected to affect the dependent variable(s). I strongly recommend that interested readers see Chapter 6 in Creswell's book for a lengthier discussion on this topic.

Theoretical Framework: A Qualitative Perspective

From a qualitative perspective, Marriam ( 1998 ) posited, "it would be difficult to imagine a study without a theoretical or (a term that can be used interchangeably) conceptual framework" ( p. 45 ). In a manner befitting a qualitative researcher, she provided her concept of theoretical framework by explaining and giving examples, rather than by specifying a succinct definition. She held that the theoretical framework of a study is really the researcher's pre-conceived conceptual perspective. The researcher's disciplinary orientation leads to the topics that will be studied and the questions that will be asked. It is the "lens through which [the researcher] view[s] the world" ( p. 45 ).

In the same regard, Marshall and Rossman ( 1989 ) used the term "theoretical frame" ( p. 24 ). According to those authors, the theoretical frame provides the conceptual grounding of a study. The theoretical frame is built on a combination of tacit (experience-based) theory and formal (literature-based) theory and serves to inform the researcher's assumptions and guide his or her questions about the research setting.

Theoretical Framework: Yet Another Compromise

The exact term "theoretical framework" does not appear often or prominently in research methods texts. Creswell ( 1994 ) devoted his entire first chapter to the discussion of frameworks for research studies, but he used the term framework in a global sense, describing the framework of a study as dependent on the researcher's worldview and culminating in a selection of either the qualitative or the quantitative paradigm, using the term theoretical perspective to mean the same thing that Warmbrod referred to as "theoretical/conceptual framework" ( p. 1 ). Ary, Jacobs, and Razavieh ( 1990 ) relegated the term "theoretical framework" ( p. 87 ) to a single mention buried within a paragraph, describing the broader concept of theoretical perspective.

We might call it theory, theoretical perspective, theoretical frame, theoretical framework, conceptual framework, or theoretical/conceptual framework. Regardless of semantics, the researcher attempts to identify a theory or several closely related theories from the literature to form the conceptual point of departure for the study. The research hypotheses would then be derived deductively from that theory, almost in the form of "if-then" statements, beginning with the theory as the basic premise of the study. The results of the study would provide a test of the accuracy of the premise and its derived hypotheses in the new context, thus either expanding the scope of the theory or refuting its efficacy in the new context.

How can we understand the concept of theoretical framework so that both perspectives are respected? First we defined theory as a set of interrelated constructs, definitions, and propositions that present a rational view of phenomena by explaining or predicting relationships among those elements . Then we described the role of theory in research as to provide for the rational explanation of the interrelationships among constructs, definitions, and propositions and the explanation of present conditions or prediction of future outcomes in natural phenomena.

Those premises lead to yet another definition. A theoretical framework might be defined as a set of theoretical assumptions that explain the relationships among a set of phenomena .


Conceptual Frameworks?

Given all of the preceding discussion, what should we make of the term "conceptual framework?" In reality, the theoretical literature is ambivalent on the use of the term conceptual framework. When a writer chooses to use the term "conceptual framework" in discussing a particular study, the implication appears to be that the researcher cannot find a "Grand Theory," or at the very least a middle-range theory that has been published in a respected source, on which to base the study. The implication seems to be that the assumptions underlying the research must be no more than a conceptual framework, and by extension are at a lower level of sophistication than is required of a "theoretical framework." Yet, if the conceptual framework begins with a supportable premise and then extends that premise through a logical path of reported research and clear reasoning to form the basis for the study, then it is in fact a substantive theory, and should rightly be called a theoretical framework. If, on the other hand, the conceptual framework is not based on a supportable premise or was not extended in a rational, research-supported way to form the basis of the research, then the study does not have a good conceptual framework, and by extension does not have a solid theoretical framework.

What then does this line of reasoning mean? If a study cannot trace its roots to a grand theory or to a middle level theory published in a reputable source, but it has a legitimate, clean, rational framework then it is based on a substantive theory. If it does not, then the study badly needs to be reconceptualized before it should be judged to be publishable in the research literature. The writer of research should be expected to establish a theoretical framework for any study, even if that framework is only at the level of substantive theory. Using that logic, a conceptual framework that does not rise to the level of a theoretical framework, at least at the level of substantive theory, is not an adequate foundation for a piece of research that is being considered for a scholarly journal or session.

Formulating a Theoretical Framework

Merely citing theoretical concepts, which may or may not relate to the study at hand, is not the same thing as "formulating a theoretical framework." To formulate a theoretical framework, the writer must first identify and summarize a set of theoretical assumptions that explain the relationships among the phenomena being studied. Just as importantly, he or she must then build conceptual linkages showing how the theoretical assumptions lead directly to the purpose, objectives, and/or questions of the study.

Hold in mind that theoretical assumptions can be at the level of the Grand Theory, Middle-Range Theory, or Substantive Theory. The higher up that continuum one can go, the better; but many meaningful studies simply are not based on generally accepted grand theories or even middle-range theories. Let me give three examples that might clarify how to formulate a theoretical framework beginning at each of these three levels.

Grand theory . In his dissertation, Dobbins ( 1999 ) intended to identify essential clinical experiences that should be provided for future teachers of agricultural education during their preservice educational programs. He started with the grand theory of behavioral science. He showed how behavioral science leads directly to the middle-level theory of mastery learning. He contended that the precepts of mastery learning lead directly to the requirement for a list of discrete, incrementally sequenced competencies. That theoretical framework lead directly to his research objective, which was to determine the competencies that should be included in the early field experience and student teaching components of agricultural teacher education programs.

Middle-level theory . In a paper presented at the AVERA meeting in December 1999, Belcher and Frisbee ( 1999 ) examined the factors that influence students to enroll in four-year automotive technology programs. They established their theoretical framework by drawing on a theoretical model previously proposed by several other researchers. The researchers explicitly stated the theoretical framework of their paper as follows:

Models for student enrollment behavior theory started to emerge in the early 1980's ( Paulsen, 1990 ). Several multi-stage models began to develop ( Hanson & Litten, 1982 ; and Kotler & Fox, 1985 ). However, Hossler and Gallagher, ( 1987 ) and Jackson, ( 1982 ) developed a 3-stage model that has become the most widely accepted model in enrollment behavior. The steps include: a) college aspiration, b) search and application, and c) selection and attendance ( Belcher & Frisbee, p. 4 ).

Substantive theory . In another paper at the 1999 AVERA research meeting, Roberson, Flowers, and Moore ( 1999 ) reported a study on the status of integration of academic and agricultural education in North Carolina. Making no attempt to start with a single grand theory, such as that cited by Dobbins, or a middle-level theory, such as that cited by Belcher and Frisbee, Roberson, Flowers, and Moore ( 1999 ) synthesized an extensive literature base on curriculum integration. From their discussion, the reader could extract the following set of theoretical assumptions explaining academic and vocational integration:

  • Vocational and academic integration provides numerous benefits to both students and teachers.
  • Vocational and academic integration is supported both by the teaching profession and by business and industry.
  • Yet, despite those two conditions, barriers within the schools exist to hinder the progress of vocational and academic integration.
    ( Roberson, Flowers, & Moore, 1999 )

Evaluating Theoretical Frameworks

As a minimum, for a quantitative study to have an acceptable theoretical framework it must provide adequate discipline-related and research-based literature to produce a set of theoretical assumptions that lead directly to the research question or questions. In addition, it must be apparent how the current study could have implications for testing the appropriateness of those theoretical assumptions for the study.

  • What theoretical assumptions undergird the study? The theoretical assumptions provide a premise for the study so that a coherent argument can be made for the research questions. A problem establishes the reason for the study. The literature provides the background and knowledge base related to the study. The theoretical framework provides a premise for the study. The premise leads directly to the research questions.
  • What implications will the results of the study have for determining whether those theoretical assumptions indeed are the appropriate ones on which to base the study? The research questions relate back to the theoretical assumptions. The findings of the study can be used to verify that the theory applies in this new setting. The study holds the promise of adding to the generalizations already made under the theory.

As a minimum, for a qualitative study to have an adequate theoretical framework, the basic assumptions of the researcher must be elucidated to provide an intellectual context for the research. If the study will begin with specific research questions, a study-specific theoretical framework should provide the rationale by which the research questions were derived, much as is done in item 1, in the preceding paragraph. If the research will not begin with specific questions, the theoretical assumptions must make clear why the researcher selected that particular setting and provide a thorough examination of the extant knowledge base relative to similar or related settings.

Regardless of the paradigm used, in evaluating the theoretical framework of a study, four questions should be addressed:

  • Did the researcher provide a literature review that leads directly to and establishes a clear basis for the theoretical framework?
  • Did the researcher enumerate the theoretical assumptions succinctly and in a logical sequence so that the theoretical framework is coherent?
  • Did the researcher show that the theoretical framework actually leads to the purpose, objectives, questions, or setting of the study?
  • Did the researcher relate the results of the study back to the theoretical framework in a meaningful way?


Researchers in career and technical education have drastically expanded their horizons of inquiry in recent decades. An almost total domination by quantitative research only a few years ago has given way to a more eclectic approach to research in career and technical education today. We see a greatly increased emphasis on the relationship between theory and research in our field and on the formulation of theoretical frameworks to guide research in career and technical education.

The fundamental precepts of research and theory remain as solid as ever. The basic purpose of theory is to understand realty. The basic purpose of research is produce theory. Yet the mechanical processes involved in relating theory and practice continue to evolve. In the research community in career and technical education, we must continue to emphasize the inseparability of research and theory.

We cannot afford to be seduced by the oversimplification that all research must derive directly from grand theory. Substantive theoretical propositions based on appropriate discipline-based and research-based literature provide adequate theoretical frameworks for most research in career and technical education. Applied research based on theoretical assumptions falling well short of grand theory can have important implications for practice in our field and can be perfectly legitimate. Indeed, given the scientific immaturity of educational research in general and career and technical education in particular, substantive theory may well form the theoretical frameworks of much of our research for some time to come.

On the other hand, a review of related literature does not provide an adequate theoretical framework for a study. To provide an adequate theoretical framework for a study, the literature must first establish at least one supportable premise and then generate one or more propositions that the researcher can postulate in the form of theoretical assumptions regarding the phenomena under study. Simply adding the heading "Theoretical Framework" to a review of related literature does not actually make it a theoretical framework. Moreover, labeling an inadequate "theoretical framework" as a "conceptual framework" does not make it adequate.

Finally, the ultimate goal of researchers in career and technical education should be to relate our work to the larger research and theoretical community. Systematically ignoring larger issues at the level of grand theory, as we are so often tempted to do for the sake of expediency, will only delay the time when our profession can begin to address its larger issues and solve its larger problems.

In his AVERA Presidential address some years ago, Gary Moore ( 1992 ) challenged us to concern ourselves with the "significance of our research." I challenge us to concern ourselves with the theoretical bases and implications of our research, holding always in mind the ultimate goal of building a solid theoretical framework for practice in career and technical education.


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Belcher , G. G., & Frisbee, R. L. (1999, December). Factors that influence students to attend four-year automotive programs . Proceedings of the AVERA annual meeting, USA, 99, 5-10

Best , J. W., & Kahn, J. V. (1993). Research in education (7th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

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Creswell , J. W. (1994). Research design: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Dobbins , T. R. (1999). Clinical experiences for agricultural teacher education programs in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia . Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Virginia Tech, Virginia. Retrieved August 3, 2001, from Virginia Tech web site: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-090799-094331/ .

Gage , N. L. (1962). Paradigms for research on teaching. In N. L. Gage (Ed.), Handbook on research in teaching. Chicago: Rand McNally

Kerlinger , F. N. (1979). Behavioral research: A conceptual approach . Philadelphia, PA: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, Inc.

Marriam , S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Marshall , C., & Rossman, G. B. (1989). Designing qualitative research . Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Moore , G. (1992). The significance of research in vocational education. The Journal of Vocational Education Research , 17(4), 1-14.

Roberson , D. L., Flowers, J, & Moore, G. L. (1999). Academic and agricultural education in North Carolina . Proceedings of the AVERA annual meeting, USA, 99,75-84.

Warmbrod , J. R. (1986). The theoretical/conceptual framework: What is its relevance to conclusions and recommendations? Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Dallas, TX.


WILLIAM G. CAMP, is professor at the department of Agricultural and Extension Education, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 282 Litton Reaves Hall (Mail Code 0343), Blacksburg, Virginia 24061. [E-mail: wgcamp@vt.edu ]. Dr. Camp is past president of AVERA.