Talking to positive deviants – a validation of the framework

Study 3

Quick summary

This study assessed the validity and practical relevance of the 4Es pedagogical framework. In-depth interviews were conducted with academics known for their successful employability teaching. We confirmed the face validity of the framework and received feedback on the ways to communicate and describe its dimensions. Respondents were able to identify a multiplicity of strategies relevant to engendering enthusiasm, exploration, extension and exhibition. Distinct teaching mindsets were identified within the group of interviewees.

Here’s what they had to say…


Study 2 reviewed literatures and summarised them in a pedagogical framework for fostering transformational and transferable learning. While the framework was based on a wealth of research and captured synergies identified across multiple sources and literatures the project team wanted to make sure it also had a reality in practice.

The aims of Study 3 were to:

  • Assess the face validity and perceived relevance of the pedagogical framework
  • Identify teaching practices that reflect each dimension of the framework


The interviews confirmed the face validity and relevance of the framework. Some interviewees stated the framework appeared straight forward, even commonsensical. Others seemed to find it almost a revelation, capturing what they had been doing instinctively for years. Most interviewees could readily comment on all dimensions, identifying multiple ways to address individual dimensions and other teaching practices that served two or more simultaneously. Further analysis revealed that the distinctiveness of this sample seemed to lie not in which specific techniques were used, but in how multiple techniques were used. Our analysis suggested that positive deviants had what the researchers came to call an ‘employability mindset’


Method – The positive deviant approach

The positive deviance approach involves “identifying individuals with better outcomes than their peers (positive deviance) and enabling communities to adopt the behaviours that explain the improved outcome” (Marsh, Schroeder, Dearden, Sternin, & Sternin, 2004, p. 1177). Positive deviants are defined as follows: First, positive deviants are high performers. Second, positive deviants follow uncommon practices. Third, solutions are driven internally by individuals or their community rather than imposed externally. Fourth, solutions are sustainable within existing resource constraints (Baxter, Taylor, Kellar, & Lawton, 2015).

The project partners searched for positive deviants and 20 potential candidates were interviewed.



Next steps

The findings of this study were reassuring, in that the framework was consistent with the practices of positive deviants. However, the study also discovered that the positive deviants had quite distinct mindsets. While we know the framework is consistent with the practices of positive deviants we do not know whether the majority of teaching staff, who do not share these mindsets, can be supported to act in the ways that positive deviants act. This was the subject of Study 4, which can be found here.