Use of theory is essential for advancing the science of knowledge translation (KT) and for increasing the likelihood that KT interventions will be successful in reducing existing research-practice gaps in health care. As a sociological theory of knowledge, social constructivist theory may be useful for informing the design and evaluation of KT interventions. As such, this scoping review explored the extent to which social constructivist theory has been applied in the KT literature for healthcare professionals.
Searches were conducted in six databases: Ovid MEDLINE (1948 - May 16, 2011), Ovid EMBASE, CINAHL, ERIC, PsycInfo, and AMED. Inclusion criteria were: publications from all health professions, research methodologies, as well as conceptual and theoretical papers related to KT. To be included in the review, key words such as constructivism, social constructivism, or social constructivist theories had to be included within the title or abstract. Papers that discussed the use of social constructivist theories in the context of undergraduate learning in academic settings were excluded from the review. An analytical framework of quantitative (numerical) and thematic analysis was used to examine and combine study findings.
Of the 514 articles screened, 35 papers published between 1992 and 2011 were deemed eligible and included in the review. This review indicated that use of social constructivist theory in the KT literature was limited and haphazard. The lack of justification for the use of theory continues to represent a shortcoming of the papers reviewed. Potential applications and relevance of social constructivist theory in KT in general and in the specific studies were not made explicit in most papers. For the acquisition, expression and application of knowledge in practice, there was emphasis on how the social constructivist theory supports clinicians in expressing this knowledge in their professional interactions.
This scoping review was the first to examine use of social constructivism in KT studies. While the links between social constructivism and KT have not been fully explored, the Knowledge to Action framework has strong constructivist underpinnings that can be used in moving forward within the broader KT enterprise.
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