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Educational research refers to a variety of methods,[1][2][3] in which individuals evaluate different aspects of education including: “student learning, teaching methods, teacher training, and classroom dynamics”.[4]

Educational researchers have come to the consensus that, educational research must be conducted in a rigorous and systematic way,[2][4] although what this implies is often debated.[1][5] There are a variety of disciplines which are each present to some degree in educational research. These include psychology, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy.[1][3] The overlap in disciplines creates a broad range from which methodology can be drawn.[3][5] The findings of educational research also need to be interpreted within the context in which they were discovered as they may not be applicable in every time or place.[3]


In his book entitled Fundamentals of Educational Research, Gary Anderson has outlined ten characteristics that can be used to further understand what the field of educational research entails:[2]

  • Educational research attempts to solve a problem.
  • Research involves gathering new data from primary or first-hand sources or using existing data for a new purpose.
  • Research is based upon observable experience or empirical evidence.
  • Research demands accurate observation and description.
  • Research generally employs carefully designed procedures and rigorous analysis.
  • Research emphasizes the development of generalizations, principles or theories that will help in understanding, prediction and/or control.
  • Research requires expertise—familiarity with the field; competence in methodology; technical skill in collecting and analyzing the data.
  • Research attempts to find an objective, unbiased solution to the problem and takes great pains to validate the procedures employed.
  • Research is a deliberate and unhurried activity which is directional but often refines the problem or questions as the research progresses.
  • Research is carefully recorded and reported to other persons interested in the problem.


There are two main approaches in educational research. The first is a basic approach.[1] This approach is also referred to as an academic research approach.[2] The second approach is applied research [1] or a contract research approach.[2] Both of these approaches have different purposes which influence the nature of the respective research.

Basic approach[edit]

Basic, or academic research focuses on the search for truth [2] or the development of educational theory.[1] Researchers with this background “design studies that can test, refine, modify, or develop theories”.[1] Generally, these researchers are affiliated with an academic institution and are performing this research as part of their graduate or doctoral work.

Applied approach[edit]

The pursuit of information that can be directly applied to practice is aptly known as applied or contractual research.[1] Researchers in this field are trying to find solutions to existing educational problems. The approach is much more utilitarian as it strives to find information that will directly influence practice.[2] Applied researchers are commissioned by a sponsor and are responsible for addressing the needs presented by this employer.[2] The goal of this research is “to determine the applicability of educational theory and principles by testing hypotheses within specific settings”.[1]

Comparison of basic and applied research[edit]

The following are several defining characteristics that were written by Gary Anderson to compare basic (academic) and applied (contract) research.[2]

Basic (Academic) Research Applied (Contract) Research
1 Is sponsored by an agency committed to the general advancement of knowledge. Is sponsored by an agency with a vested interest in the results.
2 Results are the property of society and the research community. Results become the property of the sponsor.
3 Studies rely on the established reputations of the researchers and are totally under their control. Studies follow explicit terms of reference developed by the sponsor to serve the sponsor’s needs.
4 Budget allocations are generally based on global proposals and accounting is left to the researchers. Budget accountability is directly related to the sponsor and relates to agreed terms of reference, time frames and methodologies.
5 The conduct of research is based on ‘good faith’ between funder and researcher. The work is contractual between sponsor and researcher.
6 The research produces findings and conclusions, but rarely recommendations except those related to further research needs. The research includes applied recommendations for action.
7 Academic research tends to extend an identifiable scholarly discipline. By its nature, contract research tends to be interdisciplinary.
8 Academic research is typically focused on a single set of testable hypotheses. Contract research frequently analyzes the consequences of alternative policy options.
9 Decision-rules relate to theoretically-based tests of statistical significance. Decision-rules relate to predetermined conventions and agreements between the sponsor and the researcher.
10 Research reports are targeted to other specialized researchers in the same field. Research reports are intended to be read and understood by lay persons.


The basis for educational research is the scientific method.[1] The scientific method uses directed questions and manipulation of variables to systematically find information about the teaching and learning process.[1] In this scenario questions are answered by the analysis of data that is collected specifically for the purpose of answering these questions.[2] Hypotheses are written and subsequently proved or disproved by data which leads to the creation of new hypotheses. The two main types of data that are used under this method are qualitative and quantitative.[1][5][6]

Qualitative research[edit]

Qualitative research uses data which is descriptive in nature. Tools that educational researchers use in collecting qualitative data include: observations, conducting interviews, conducting document analysis, and analyzing participant products such as journals, diaries, images or blogs,.[1]

Types of qualitative research[edit]

Quantitative research[edit]

Quantitative research uses data that is numerical and is based on the assumption that the numbers will describe a single reality.[1] Statistics are often applied to find relationships between variables.

Types of quantitative research[edit]

  • Descriptive Survey Research [1]
  • Experimental Research [1]
  • Single — Subject Research [1]
  • Causal — Comparative Research [1]
  • Correlational Research [1][2]
  • Meta-analysis [1]

Combination methods[edit]

There also exists a new school of thought that these derivatives of the scientific method are far too reductionistic in nature,.[5] Since educational research includes other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, science, and philosophy [1][3] and refers to work done in a wide variety of contexts [3] it is proposed that researchers should use "multiple research approaches and theoretical constructs".[5] This could mean using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods as well as common methodology from the fields mentioned above. In social research this phenomenon is referred to as triangulation (social science).[7] This idea is well summarized by the work of Barrow in his text An introduction to philosophy of education:

"Since educational issues are of many different kinds and logical types, it is to be expected that quite different types of research should be brought into play on different occasions. The question therefore is not whether research into teaching should be conducted by means of quantitative measures (on some such grounds as that they are more ‘objective’) or qualitative measures (on some such grounds as that they are more ‘insightful’), but what kind of research can sensibly be utilized to look into this particular aspect of teaching as opposed to that." [8]

Types of combined methods[edit]

  • Action Research[1]
  • Program Evaluation[1][2]

List of researchers[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Lodico, Marguerite G.; Spaulding, Dean T.; Voegtle, Katherine H. (2010). Methods in Educational Research: From Theory to Practice. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-58869-7. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Anderson, Garry; Arsenault, Nancy (1998). Fundamentals of Educational Research. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-203-97822-1. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Yates, Lyn (2004). What Does Good Educational Research Look Like?: Situating a Field and Its Practices. Conducting Educational Research. McGraw-Hill International. ISBN 978-0-335-21199-9. 
  4. ^ a b "IAR: Glossary. (n.d.)". Instructional Assessment Resources. University of Texas at Austin. 21 September 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Kincheloe, Joe (2004). Rigour and Complexity in Educational Research. McGraw-Hill International. ISBN 978-0-335-22604-7. 
  6. ^ Scott, David; Usher, Robin (2002) [1996]. Understanding Educational Research. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-203-13192-3. 
  7. ^ Gorard, Stephen; Taylor, Chris (2004). Combining Methods in Educational and Social Research. McGraw-Hill International. ISBN 978-0-335-22517-0. 
  8. ^ Woods, Ronald; Barrow, Robin (2006). An Introduction to Philosophy of Education. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-203-96995-3. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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