My digital learning experience
There appears to be an on-going debate among the educational researchers about the effectiveness of the two popularly known research methods: the Quantitative and the Qualitative. The main contention in this debate is which method is more scientific and appropriate in examining the issues in education?
This debate is naturally expected because these two methods start from altogether different philosophical/ ontological assumptions.
Quantitative Research is based on the assumption that the social reality (including issue in education) is an objective phenomenon and it can be studied and measured ‘objectively’ without the influence of the observer or the researcher. Its philosophical root lies in positivism.
On the other hand, the Qualitative Research assumes that the social reality is constructed and reconstructed by the individual or by a society in the given environmental/societal contexts and it changes and differs from individual to individual and from society to society. So, there can’t be objective measurement of that reality. The reality should be examined through the narration of experience (not measurement) of the individual about their social reality. The Qualitative Research draws its philosophy from the post-positivism.
From this fundamental difference in their basic philosophical assumptions there ensue a number of differences in the research approach of these two methods. For example, the Quantitative Research is statistically designed or oriented whereas, the Qualitative Research is descriptive and interpretive; the type of research conducted under the Quantitative Framework can be experimental or quasi-experimental whereas, the type of research under the Qualitative Framework could be phenomenological studies or case studies or ethnographic studies.
The goal of Quantitative Research would be to collect data and establish relationships between comparable data about the social reality (e.g., this may involve averaging, summarising, correlation and regression analyses) whereas the goal of Qualitative Research would be to better understand the social processes and dynamics (e.g. classroom interactions between teacher and students) through case studies, reporting or participant observations.
The Quantitative Research is formally structured with detailed plan of how the research would be undertaken. It generally starts with hypotheses whose validity will be tested by the research whereas the Qualitative Research is less formal in its structure and design, sometime even open and loose where the observed social reality is altogether new ( e.g. violence in classroom).
Quantitative Research is generally based on random sampling because the whole research subjects (or participants) could not be practically studied within the given financial and time constraints. Qualitative Research are based on purposive sampling of limited however potent or meaningful subjects.
Further, in Quantitative Research the researcher is neutral or outside of the social phenomena being observed whereas in the Qualitative Research the researcher could participate in the process of the unfolding of the phenomenon and examine the situation from an insider’s perspective. Numerical data, statistical methods (e.g. averaging, correlation analysis, regression analysis) and deductive reasoning are the tools of analysing research results in the Quantitative Research. Case narration, representative statements and quotes, excerpts from observation are the methods of analysing the phenomenon in Qualitative Research.
As observed above the Quantitative and Qualitative research have altogether different orientations and there are a number of differences between these two frameworks. But, the central question is: should we take ‘either/or’ position in undertaking our education research? Or, the conflict between the Quantitative and Qualitative methods is irresolvable?
My answer to these questions is: the use of Quantitative or Qualitative research methods depends on the purpose of research being undertaken. Quantitative method would be appropriate where the objective of research is to study the cause and effect relationships (For example, how the student learning has improved by the delivery through power point slides?). Qualitative method would be appropriate where we want to understand the situation and draw a deeper meaning inherent in the manifested reality. Quantitative Method can’t reveal the qualitative experience/dimensions of the research subjects, and the Qualitative Method can’t safely generalise the cause and effect relationships. A well-considered education research, where practicable, should simultaneously use both Qualitative and Quantitative methods to capture the full implications of an educational event. A quantitative study can be conducted along with a qualitative study, or qualitative with quantitative, but each approach should not be analysed and judged by the criteria associated with the other approach. Actually, there need not be a split between the Quantitative and Qualitative study approaches they may complement each other.