Quantitative and qualitative research

Quantitative and qualitative research approaches in education have been used in a variety of settings, based on the needs of the researcher. The quantitative research approach is used based on the assumption that the researcher is trying to obtain facts, while the qualitative research approach acknowledges the researcher’s viewpoint and its impact on the end result. The quantitative research approach is used to identify trends or statistical truth in the research while the qualitative research approach is used when the researcher wants to make observations and research is based on his/her own research viewpoint.

Quantitative research was initially used in education, because it is based on the same quantitative research that is used in natural science. This was perceived as appropriate because researchers felt it was equally applicable to education, and because it would provide logical standards for educational research. The primary goal of quantitative research was to identify universal truths, separate from the viewpoint of the researcher. As in scientific research, this would yield objective information, in the form of facts, utilizing neutral specific language.

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Quantitative research attempts to separate human reality from the data, and therefore is separated from the researcher’s subjectivity. In quantitative research, data is presented in a numerical and objective way. “The research goal of quantitative research is a discovery of universal value. Universal value means that the research value is universally applicable regardless of time, place, culture and other factors. ” (Hara, 1995) In contrast to quantitative research in education, qualitative research in education recognizes that the researcher’s subjectivity deeply affects the research.

Qualitative research in education came into existence as a result of criticisms of quantitative research in education, and as an attempt to recognize that there is a human reality within the education system that must be addresses by research. Qualitative research in education accepts the researcher’s viewpoint as a crucial factor of the research, as a means of addressing the human needs. The researcher uses their viewpoint and value systems to identify what should be studied and how. Qualitative research is clearly not value free, and based on subjective inference.

What a researcher chooses to study is related to his/her value judgment. “There is a belief that research facts and researcher’s value judgments or interpretations of the research cannot exist separately. Rather, facts and the researcher’s viewpoint are inextricably intertwined with each other. There is a belief that the researcher acts on the basis of his/her own value. ” (Hara, 1995) The goal of the quantitative research approach is to identify the facts which exist in the reality, using a statistical procedure.

The strength of the quantitative research approach in education is that it is based on facts, that can be applicable in numerous situations and therefore the same research methods and the results can easily be generalized to other settings and situations. In other words, the information or facts gleaned by the research can be applied to a large number of other situations because it is objective and value free. Quantitative research occurs separate from the researcher’s beliefs and values system. In this manner, it is assumed that all information or facts learned are objective, and considered to be universal in nature.

It has been believed that this type of statistical analysis can reduce ambiguities and contradictions. (Hara, 1995) The qualitative research approach is based on specific research goals, with the researcher placed as a key point of research. The research is based on the researcher’s personal knowledge and experience, and therefore fully influences the outcome. The qualitative research approach in education is that it is able to emphasize the researcher’s viewpoint in the research process as well as on its results.

The qualitative research approach in education is used to demonstrate the effects of interpersonal, social, and cultural contexts, which are not shown in the quantitative research methods. “The researcher’s viewpoint is clearly placed on the research and researcher is able to provide more richer and wider-ranging description than in the quantitative research approach. ” (Hara, 1995) Qualitative research provides the ability to examine the facets of the human being that are impossible to represent numerically, as they are in quantitative research.

Educational research needs to include the impact of human beings on the outcome of that research and therefore cannot be fully identified by quantitative research and statistics. (Hara, 1995) Weaknesses can be found in both quantitative research methods and qualitative research methods. One weakness of the quantitative research approach in education is that the researcher’s viewpoint is not considered in the explanation of the research. “Even though there are psychological issues, which affect the research results, the quantitative research approach does not pursue the connection of the human mind. (Hara, 1995) Quantitative research methods to not take into account the individual differences of the subjects.

Further criticism is based on the belief that the researcher’s viewpoint must be separated from the research value because research must be value neutral in order to provide universal value. “Although the educational quantitative research approach pursues neutral value, the complexity of the society, changes over time, and cultural differences make it impossible for all research to be value neutral. ” (Hara, 1995) The qualitative research methods has weaknesses also.

One weakness of this approach is the ability to generalize findings to a variety of situations, because the researchers unique viewpoint is central in the research. If the research findings cannot be generalized to a variety of settings, those findings may not be considered useful. The very nature of qualitative research is based on the belief that the researcher is able to control the research. That is to say, the qualitative research approach emphasizes the researcher’s decision in both the research design and the analysis of the data.

Results therefore are greatly influenced by the researcher’s perception. The decision as to which approach should be chosen depends on the research subject, the goal of the research, and the researcher’s beliefs. Choosing the appropriate approach depends upon a given situation, the goal of the research and the researcher’s decision. (Hara, 1995) Qualitative research is not used to verify predetermined notions, but based on the belief that discovery will leads to new insights. Qualitative researchers focus on natural settings. Qualitative researchers want those who are studied to speak for themselves. So they say that the researcher must cultivate sensitivity to situations or experience as a whole and to the qualities that regulate them. Qualitative researchers will not superimpose a general method on experience, but will be sensitive to the effects of methods on inquiry. Qualitative research implies a direct concern with experience as it is lived, felt or undergone. ” (Sherman & Webb, 2001) Qualitative research has the aim of understanding experience as nearly as possible as its participants feel it or live it. (Sherman & Webb, 2001)

The debate between qualitative and quantitative researchers exists due to the differences in assumptions made by the researcher about what reality is and if it is measurable. Researchers argue the ability of each method based on its subjective or objective nature, and which is more reliable. “The qualitative, naturalistic approach is used when observing and interpreting reality with the aim of developing a theory that will explain what was experienced. The quantitative approach is used when one begins with a theory (or hypothesis) and tests for confirmation or disconfirmation of that hypothesis. (Benz & Newman, 1998)

Qualitative research methods are generally referred to as ethnography, case studies, field studies, grounded theory, document studies, naturalistic inquiry, observational studies, interview studies, and descriptive studies. Qualitative research designs are based upon those found in anthropology and sociology. Often in a qualitative design only one subject, one case, or one unit is the focus of investigation over an extended period of time. (Benz & Newman, 1998) Quantitative research, is generally known as empirical studies, or statistical studies.

These are based on the manner in which psychology and behavioral science have carried out investigations. Quantitative designs include experimental studies, pretest-postest designs, where control of variables, randomization, and valid and reliable measures are required. The focus is to demonstrate information that can be generalized to a variety of situations. “It is necessary to adopt some standard by which one can measure whether the qualitative, the quantitative, or a continuum that includes both methodologies is the most effective mode in reaching truth.

We assume the standard of science as a way of knowing. ” (Benz & Newman, 1998). Both qualitative and quantitative strategies could be useful, depending on need and the research problem. “If the classic scientific research approach is followed it implies that qualitative research will be a prerequisite for quantitative research. Researchers need to demonstrate logic and justification throughout the research process and not be driven by preference of a research strategy. ” (Myburgh, 2001) Qualitative research is criticized on the basis that the researchers find what they want to ind, and then they write up their results. The problem of researcher bias is believed to be an issue because qualitative research is open ended and less structured than quantitative research. Qualitative research tends to be exploratory.

“Researcher bias tends to result from selective observation and selective recording of information, and also from allowing one’s personal views and perspectives to affect how data are interpreted and how the research is conducted. ” (Johnson, 1997) There are three types of validity that are relevant to qualitative research. These types are alled descriptive validity, interpretive validity, and theoretical validity. They are key to qualitative research because the basis of qualitative research includes a description of what is observed and interpretation by the researcher is primary to the qualitative research activities. On the basis of those observations and interpretations, the researcher develops a theoretical explanation of the behavior of group members, which is also of interest to qualitative researchers. “Internal validity is relevant when qualitative researchers explore cause and effect relationships.

External validity is relevant when qualitative researchers generalize beyond their research studies. ” (Johnson, 1997) Descriptive validity refers to the factual accuracy of the observations as reported by the researchers. The key questions addressed in descriptive validity are: • Did what was reported as taking place in the group being studied actually happen? • Did the researchers accurately report what they saw and heard? Descriptive validity is based upon the accuracy in reporting descriptive information (e. g. , description of events, objects, behaviors, people, settings, times, and places).

This form of validity is important because description is a major objective in nearly all qualitative research. (Johnson, 1997) Interpretive validity is based upon the researchers ability to accurately interpret the actions of those being studied. Interpretive validity relies on the ability of the researcher to accurately interpret and report the meaning attached by participants to what is being studied by the researcher. It is the degree to which the research participants’ viewpoints, thoughts, feelings, intentions, and experiences are accurately understood by the qualitative researcher and portrayed n the research report.

“An important part of qualitative is understanding research participants’ inner worlds, and interpretive validity refers to the degree of accuracy in presenting these inner worlds. Accurate interpretive validity requires that the researcher get inside the heads of the participants, look through the participants’ eyes, and see and feel what they see and feel. In this way, the qualitative researcher can understand things from the participants’ perspectives and provide a valid account of these perspectives. ” (Johnson, 1997)

Theoretical validity is based on the ability of the research to develop a theoretical explanation from the research that is gathered. Theoretical validity is the extent to which this theory fits the data and, therefore, is credible and defensible. This theory is usually abstract in nature, and attempts to provide an explanation of the phenomenon. (Johnson, 1997) Internal validity is the fourth type of validity in qualitative research. Internal validity refers to the degree to which a researcher is justified in concluding that an observed relationship is causal.

Often qualitative researchers are not interested in cause and effect relationships. Sometimes, however, qualitative researchers are interested in identifying potential causes and effects. Qualitative research can be very helpful in describing how phenomena operate and in developing and testing preliminary causal hypotheses and theories. (Johnson, 1997) External validity relies on the ability of the researcher to generalize research findings to other people, settings, and times. Although generalization may not be the goal of research, it does serve to validate the findings.

As a result, qualitative research is virtually always weak in the form of population validity focused on generalizing to populations (i. e. , generalizing from a sample to a population). ” (Johnson, 1997) Qualitative research has the ability to provide results beyond the original focus of the study. “Participants may reveal unexpected abilities, strengths, and coping strategies when their performances are viewed in natural settings and authentic situations. ” (Anzul, 2001) The unstructured, open-ended interview may encourage participants to share additional information that may be useful.

Quantitative research methods and qualitative research methods each provide information to the researcher, but neither can provide a clear view in isolation. Combining a variety of research methods will provide more complete answers to the issue that is being studied. The problem, some education researchers contend, is that while randomized studies can determine whether an intervention works, they cannot answer key questions about why it works, they can’t tell whether it works better where it’s well implemented, and they can’t pick up on any unexpected side effects.

Mixed research is a general type of research, in which quantitative and qualitative methods, techniques, or other paradigm characteristics are mixed in one overall study. Mixed research is a method in which the researcher uses qualitative research for one phase of the study and quantitative research for another phase of the study. Mixed method research conducts two separate studies, which when the results are combined and analyzed provide more complete information. (MacPhee, et. al. , 2000) Mixed research methods are likely to provide a thorough understanding of educational issues.

Education involves people that come from different cultures, with differing abilities. Quantitative research cannot identify the variables that will affect an individual’s progress or lack of progress in education. Quantitative research methods can provide a starting point for educators with some statistical information. That statistical information, when combined with the “rest of the story” will provide complete answers. Quantitative and qualitative research methods should be combined in a manner in which they will compliment each other, filling in the gaps where the other leaves off. Gliner, 2000) Good research is based on the accuracy of the data collection procedures used. Decisions made on the type of method used, is based on the type of question being asked, the type of data being used, and selection of data-analysis techniques.

Whether using qualitative or quantitative methods, the feedback from one may present the researcher with the opportunity to investigate questions that arise that may require the other approach. Research in and of itself should be the focus and that may require both qualitative and quantitative methods. Treating the method-types as incompatible obviously encourages researchers to use only one or the other when it may be a combination of the two that is best suited to research needs. ” (DeMarrais & Lapan, 2004) There are at least three potential combinations of multi-methods research based on qualitative and quantitative methods; (1) two or more quantitative approaches, (2) two or more qualitative approaches, or (3) inquiry that involves a combination of at least one qualitative and one quantitative method.

Any combination of these methods should be seen as tools, and its usefulness should be based on its ability to solve a particular problem. Combining methods provides the opportunity to learn more and elaborate on research findings. Researchers may engage in multi-methods research in order to advance a study or program of research. Another potential benefit for using a multi-method approach is the opportunity to use the results for expansion. “By involving both qualitative and quantitative measures, one can expand the breadth and depth of a study to examine different aspects.

This is particularly helpful, because certain components of research questions are better addressed through particular methods. ” (DeMarrais & Lapan, 2004) As with any research method, multi-method approaches also pose potential problems. Advocates of qualitative and quantitative research methods continue to resist information based on multi-method approaches, potentially dismissing any findings of research completed. Multi-method research is more costly than those of single-study methods.

It takes additional time to collect and analyze data, in addition to research materials. (DeMarrais & Lapan, 2004) There will always be those who believe that research is only valid when it is completed in an objective, statistical manner, as well as those who argue that in order to understand human beings, we must include them as part of the research. The decision on which method to use needs to be made based on what information needs to be gathered, with researchers being prepared to change modes once the progress is in motion.