The main approaches to educational research

What would your answer be if someone asked you how to research educational topics? There are many different approaches to conducting academic research, with each method falling into one of three main categories.

Each of these categories focuses on a different aspect of the research process. They are not mutually exclusive, which means you can use more than one approach in your educational research.

Understanding these three main approaches will help you choose the best one for your unique situation and needs, so let’s explore the strengths and weaknesses of each approach so you can determine which one best suits your teaching style.

What is educational research?

Educational research is the systematic analysis of data pertaining to education to understand how and why a particular effect or outcome occurs. It is used to increase knowledge about education.

This allows for more accurate assessments, evaluations and treatments of educational situations. For example, researchers may want to know whether teaching students using a particular method impacts their ability to answer difficult test questions.

To find this information, researchers may survey students using the technique to measure what they learned and how well they performed on subsequent tests.

These surveys can be administered at different points during the experiment to track any improvements or changes in student performance over time with that teaching method.

If you are a teacher, an online MA in Education program like the one offered by the University of Exeter provides you with a curriculum rich in research, policy and practice in education worldwide. You’ll learn how to apply research methods across various academic fields and professional settings, from elementary schools to university-level studies.

3 types of educational research

Just as there are many ways to solve problems, you can use different approaches to educational research to solve the issues you face daily in your classroom.

If you are fortunate enough to work in the field of education, you need to know that one approach often works better for some questions than another approach.

Here is an overview of the most common approaches to educational research.

Descriptive research

This approach involves researchers gathering data to describe and explain educational issues. This data might include why some students have trouble learning and who benefits from specific instructional strategies.

Descriptive research helps solve problems that have been well documented or those that you can research in a testable way using published tests. It provides a snapshot of what is happening in the world at a particular point in time.

The data that is collected can be analyzed for patterns over time to see if anything has changed. The researchers also look for differences between groups of biographyer people.

For example, this could include finding out how different grades perform on math tests or how male and female students are treated by their teachers. When carrying out this research, researchers use the existing body of knowledge to add to our understanding of the questions being studied.

They then report their findings in a way that can help other people use what they have learned to solve problems. For example, suppose it is revealed that children in a particular age group struggle to learn to read. In that case, a teacher could implement the reading strategies used in the study to improve individual students’ learning.

Correlational research

In this approach, researchers study the relationships between two or more variables to help them understand and predict cause and effect. For example, researchers might study the relationship between how much time a student spends on homework and that student’s overall achievement level in class.

Researchers can also use correlational research to study the relationships between factors such as:

  • Changes in achievement scores within the same classroom over time.
  • The relationship between classroom size and student disruption within that class.

With correlational research, researchers are not attempting to identify cause-and-effect relationships. Instead, they attempt to identify relationships among variables to determine whether they can use them to predict other variables.

By doing so, they can identify factors that affect learning, predict which children are most likely to succeed or fail, and provide insights into improving a school program.

Experimental research

In this approach, researchers use experimental procedures to isolate the effects of specific variables on the achievement of students or students’ performance in a classroom.

They then compare subjects who have been exposed to an experimental treatment (intervention) with subjects who have not been exposed to the treatment (control group). For example, a researcher might study the effects of a specific instructional program on students’ achievement scores or the impact of reducing class size on the performance of students in a class.

Researchers can also compare different groups of students to study the effects of various factors on their achievement. The epitome of experimental research is the controlled experiment, in which the researcher assigns subjects randomly to experimental and control groups.

You can use a randomized, blind experimental design that ensures that neither the subjects nor the investigator know who is getting what treatment until after the completion of the experiment.

Types of educational research methods

An educational research method is a systematic way of finding and using information to pursue knowledge. Various methods exist for different purposes, but all of them aim to assess, describe and understand educational phenomena.

Educational research methods include experiments, surveys, questionnaires and case studies.

Several factors influence which research method should be used, including:

  • Desired population size
  • Rigidity or flexibility in the methodology
  • Level of control over the variables or participants
  • Availability or cost of materials

The bottom line

Educational research is a fascinating field to be a part of because you have the opportunity to make a difference in your classroom and the world around you. You can use the various research methods available to solve problems with your class and your students.

The three approaches mentioned above are just a few of the ways you can approach your research project. You will want to choose the best solution for the situation and the problem you are trying to solve.

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