The two major study approaches used to research in education include qualitative and quantitative research. Each approach has underlying paradigms and philosophies that determine how the study is conducted and the type of data collected. Also, each has distinct philosophical assumptions, hypotheses, methods, goals, samples, and data analysis criteria (Castellan, 2010). Education research is a diverse field that generates volumes of knowledge through two main categories of study.
These categories are comprised of three different perspectives namely or, either/or, and both (Castellan, 2010). Proponents of either of the study offer arguments to explain why their approach is the best. Proponents of the qualitative study cite subjective truth and multiple realities as their foundations while proponents of the quantitative study cite objective truth and a single reality as their foundation. Other researchers prefer to incorporate concepts of both approaches to achieve better outcomes.
Quantitative and qualitative research
The quantitative research approach is based on the belief that physical and social reality is objective (Castellan, 2010). Therefore, it is not distorted by observers. The quantitative researcher’s main goal is to discover a hidden objective without developing any attachment to it. On the other hand, qualitative researchers conduct research based on the belief that reality is subjective (Castellan, 2010). They believe that different individuals construct reality differently depending on their context. In that regard, they pursue individuals’ perceptions of their environment, and as a result, interact with their study objects.
In contemporary society, many researchers in education have leaned toward qualitative research and hybrid study models. Each of the aforementioned research approaches has its research models and types. In quantitative research, there are two models namely, experimental and non-experimental research (Castellan, 2010). In experimental research, researchers possess the ability to control some of the study factors referred to as variables. This research model can be divided into three types that include true experimental, quasi-experimental, and single-subject. In non-experimental research, a study can be descriptive, correlational, causal-comparative, or comparative.
Both research approaches have different goals for conducting teaching research. Quantitative research aims to collect factual information regarding human behavior to provide additional information on a certain theory that will be useful in predicting human behavior. In other words, the goal is to establish relationships between different variables, generating facts, making predictions, and testing hypotheses (Castellan, 2010).
In contrast, the main goal of qualitative research is to gain a better understanding of human behavior and comprehension of the world as well as the process of finding meaning in each human experience. In other words, the goals o this research approach include the development of understanding, generation of insights, describing multiple realities, and come up with new theories to explain a certain phenomenon (Castellan, 2010). Some scholars have argued that all research falls under a single spectrum with each of the two approaches on each side.
In quantitative studies, the research question (hypotheses) is usually presented after reviewing available literature on the stud topic. Researchers use the findings of other studies as well as theories to develop a research question. When testing a hypothesis, the research design usually structured, specific, and formal. A researcher commences a study with a detailed plan of how the study will be carried out. On the other hand, the design is determined by the researcher’s view. An emergent study is conducted with an open and loose design that involves relying on observed phenomena. In the other approach, the researcher begins by reviewing the literature on the study topic to have an open mind during the period of the study.
The treatment of subjects being studies differs under both research approaches. In quantitative research, the members of the population under study are usually so many that it is impossible to study them all. Therefore, researchers take a random sample to represent the whole population. The sample is taken in such a way that the characteristics being studied are similar for the sample as they are in the entire population (Castellan, 2010).
In a qualitative study, participants are selected because the researcher deems them important in the development of a certain theory. The approaches taken by researches in both study models are different too. In a quantitative study, researchers remain neutral and only study factors to establish links. In contrast, researchers in the qualitative model interact with their study subjects to evaluate their behavior.
Data and data analysis are critical components of research studies. In quantitative studies, numerical data is generated and analyzed using statistical methods and deductive reasoning (Castellan, 2010). Information collection methods include questionnaires, tests, and surveys. Statistical inference techniques are used to adapt the findings from a study sample into the entire study population. In qualitative research, data is collected from three sources namely interviews, written documents, and observations. The largest percentage of data is collected from fieldwork through observation of study subjects. Data is analyzed through inductive reasoning using codes and theory patterns (Castellan, 2010).
Both quantitative and qualitative research approaches have strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, there are no single approaches can be used to conduct a satisfactory research study. Both study models can be used in a complementary manner to generate more knowledge and a better understanding of phenomena in education research.
Castellan, C. M. (2010). Quantitative and qualitative research: a view for clarity. International Journal of Education, 2(2), 1-14.