Educational Enquiry Key Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives
Consider the following scenario: major top-down, nationally imposed, non-negotiable change has to be
implemented in the curriculum at an educational institution, training site or learning context known to you.
This change affects the learning in this organisation/site.
Imagine four people, one from each of the four positions presented in Part 2 of the Study Guide.
� positivism, interpretivism, constructivism, critical research � discussing this change and the issues
that it presents for them.
For each of these four positions, identify a research question appropriate to the paradigm and explain
how this research question would be enacted, i.e. what data would need to be produced. (approx. 2000
Using what you have learned from the Study Guide, including the embedded readings and previous
assignments, identify and explain the differences there might be between the positions held by the four
colleagues. (approx. 2500 words)
In arguing for the different positions, did you feel that you would align yourself with any one position?
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Explain your reasons for any compatibility. If you did not align yourself with any one position, explain why
you found it difficult to take up a personal position (approx. 500 words).
For decades now, the paradigm wars have continued amongst the supporters that argue
fiercely for the superiority of their paradigms of choice. This has therefore resulted in a paradigm
dialogue that has seen supporters accept their differences and come to the understanding that
each and every paradigm in education has an equal importance(Hargreaves, pp 161-76.1997). In
other words, there is no research paradigm that is superior since each has a specific purpose in
providing a distinct approach in which knowledge is acquired and dispensed. This clearly depicts
the need for educational researches geared towards providing an understanding on the key
theoretical and methodological perspectives. The outcomes of this research studies should,
therefore, empower and envisage new practices and policies that have the capacity to meet the
current emerging needs of education.
Research evidence that is developed to inform education practices remains an intergral
element that can be acquired from different sources. The variability in the structure of research
and design through which evidence are obtained is exhaustive. In achieving the demands of this
paper, it is necessary to heed that I shall incorporate the two essential research approaches, the
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qualitative and quantitative methods in achieving data towards a course(Hargreaves, pp 161-
76.1997). Different forms of qualitative and quantitative evidence obtained from the research
method can, therefore, allow an individual to examine and explore the disciplines that are
encapsulated within the context of educational research. It is significant to note that these two
evidences provide data to the endless dilemmas that exist within the educational setting.
This research paper will be divided into four sub-sections with the first section addressing
the scenario and the context of the need for change in the curriculum at an educational institution
and its context. The second section depicts the different paradigms and how researchis employed
in understanding them. An analysis is given in the third section that displays the differences
between these paradigms and finally the paper analyses my explanation on how to align these
This research process begins with a controversial situation that raises a critical question
(Aberystwyth University 2014). The situation that lies in this study involves that of the German
Government declaring that schools should change their mediums of instruction from German to
English in all of their subjects. There is also need to develop a fully functional English
environment with the aim of promoting proficiency in the greater use of the language, a factor
that will enable the institution and its learners to globally compete through a standardized
language. Before carrying out research, there is need to undertake a certain school of thought. In
order to also formulate research questions, there is a significant need for understanding the
operating paradigms in as much as this paradigm may precede the research questions. In this
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study, the primary operating paradigms include; positivism, interpretivism, critical research and
An analysis of the Four Paradigms and Proposed Research Questions
The term paradigm needs a clear understanding. Hargreaves (1997) insinuates that a
paradigm infers to a comprehensive world view, belief systems, or conceptual framework that
has the capacity to guide a research and practice within a given field (p.44). From the lenses of
philosophy, a paradigm entails the existing views of the nature or reality (i.e., ontology) whether
it is internal or external to the knower; a related perception on the type of knowledge that is
generated and the underlying standards that justify this functions (i.e., epistemology); and a
disciplined approach through which knowledge is produced (i.e., methodology).The main
paradigms in this research study includes;
The concept of positivism bases its theory on the numerical and statistical interactions of
a study. The holders of this school of thought make use of the quantitative research methods to
gather quantitative data that leads to an increased understanding of the external objectives and
realities. Considering the proponents of ontology and epistemology, the positivists pursue
approaches aimed at determining the casual links in a study(Helsper, & Eynon, pp. 503–20.
2010). This clearly indicates a point when English is introduced as an instructional standard.This
would mean that English would be viewed as an essential subject that fosters and develops
proficient speaking within the learners. The positivists in this line would either support or refute
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this approach through empiricalindications that replicates knowledge. The positivists may,
therefore, ask the below-stated research question;
How effectual would an English immersed environment and modification approach as a
medium of instruction impact proficiency in learners?
Having determined the research question, the positivists, therefore, take approaches in
defining their methodological approaches. It is, therefore, significant to note that the holders of
this view align themselves with a quantitative methodology that matches their concepts and
objectivity. However, the challenge that is likely to occur is in the fact that the distinction
between the qualitative and quantitative research models may prove unhelpful (Helsper,
&Eynon, pp. 503–20. 2010). It is, therefore, significant to mention that the research question
establishes a cause and effect approach since it questions the effectiveness of the study. In
addition to this, the question also quantifies the proficiency of using English as an instructional
medium and compares the pre-policies and post policies of the outcomes.
In order to develop an internal consistency within these paradigms, there is need to
consider the fact that some options tend to be congruous and may not be determined through a
research methodology as inclined on the paradigmatic position (Helsper, & Eynon, pp. 503–20.
2010). This therefore gives the positivist an opportunity to make use of the quantitative research
approaches that are geared towards the collection of empirical data that are referenced, a factor
that points to the need of encapsulating these methodologies with research questions.
Through a deep understanding of the paradigm and its methodologies, the positivists are
in a position to determine the most efficient design framework. Positivism is in this case knitted
through a scientific and experimental process that produces statistical data. In this case, data
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collected is quantifiable in nature, and using this data gives a comparison and establishes
statistical cause and effect (Helsper, & Eynon, pp. 503–20. 2010). The random control trail
(RCT) remains one of the essential experimental approaches that are closely tied to the
positivistic paradigm since it identifies and determines the impact of an intervention.
The use of the RCT as an experimental tool has been determined to provide credible
information on the manner in which these paradigms are effective. However, it is vital to
consider the broadness of experimental studies, a factor that calls for the development of
research questions that address the proficiency of these paradigms with these requiring regular
follow-ups on the students (Open University 2014a).On the other hand, through the use of a
longitudinal study, the size and scope of the study may be similar to that of the experimental
approach but differs in its inference and generalizations. The positivists consequently have the
capacity to conduct short-termed research approaches as compared to the longitudinal approach
that is considered to be long-termed and consumes more time. The combination of these two
approaches therefore provides the positivists with the required data in response to their research
According to this viewpoint, learning is considered as conceptual. The holders of this
view allege that individuals remain the constructors of reality (Open University, 2014a). The
environment in which the interpretivists live in is constituted as the origin of beliefs and
attitudes. In the formulation of a research question that is in line with their views, the holders of
this ideology are likely to take an individual stance. With the concepts of individuality and
perceptivity in their perceptions, an interpretivist is likely to ask this as a research question;
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How can a student’s self-identity be impacted in a fully immersed second language
It is essential to note that this research question aims to display how the changes involved
in this paradigm may influence a learner. The interpretivists are consequently likely to pursue
explanations on the orientations that intrigue the development of the distinctive
orientations(Open University 2014b). The formulation of research questions that are
ontologically weighed through the lenses of epistemological orientation enables the
interpretivist’s paradigm to develop qualitative research approaches through the collection of
It is, therefore, essential to acknowledge the fact that a research question should guide in
the development of a research methodology (Open University 2014b).According to the
interpretivist view, it is critical to determining the reality of the impact that may be caused on a
student’s self-identity as a result of an introduced change. Changes are more likely to occur over
a short span of time with this leading to the interpretivist core aim in exploration.
To gather the required data that answers the interpretivist research question, the holders
of this school of thought may choose to conduct an ethnographic study since this design
framework provides a deeper explanation of the concepts involved or through a longitudinal case
study that combines the proponents of these two frameworks in providing accurate
individualized data over a period (Open University 2014c). Through an ethnographic design that
is developed through open-ended questions, the interpretivists are in a position to analyze the
things that are done and said within different contexts. This clearly indicates that data is collected
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through an ethnographic frame with the changes in the use of quantitative approach in data
collections still considered as credible.
The interpretivists therefore purse approaches of determining self-identities through the
use of open-ended interviews coupled with observations that give proof of the intensity in the
collection of data (Open University 2014c). Interviews conducted in this form consequently
explore the self-identity of individuals and gives more light into the manner in which these
identities are developed through an ethnographic design framework. The interpretivist, therefore,
will analyze the data that wholly depends on the rationale for the study.
This paradigm holds that reality is a continual process that is constructed by an individual
through interaction and symbols, and also that reality can be shared. Through the eyes of the
constructivists, the acquisition of knowledge remains an active process where an individual’s
mind is agentive and meaning is negotiated within the social environment (Prensky, pp 1–6.
2001). The constructivist paradigm upholds the element of talk as vital since meaning and
interpretation can only be shared through talk. In accordance with this scenario, the
constructivists will agree with the fact that the implementation of an English environment may
have an impact on communication between the students will be enhanced in terms of their
abilities. However it is crucial to heed that this may also result in the prevention of the necessary
development processes that may promote the students understanding.
Familiarization with this new language and other environmental factors over a period of
time may also have an impact on an individual’s life. With this, it is essential to note that the
constructivist may develop such a research question;
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To what degree and depth will the confidence of the students and their contributions to
learning be impacted by changing the medium of learning from German to English?
The qualitative approach of data collection is an instrument that is associated with
constructivism. It is, therefore, important to mention that while carrying out a constructivist
oriented research, it is essential to utilize a mixed approach of research (Prensky, pp 1–6. 2001).
Before choosing an appropriate research and data collection methods, the constructivists need to
determine the data requirements that will address the objectives of the research and its questions.
Also, a factor to consider is the opinions and interactions of students since these remains
beneficial in disclosing the changes and initiating an understanding of how the changes impact
To gather the required data in addressing the research questions, the holders of this view
may resort to a longitudinal case study approach. This approach allows the research to be
conducted over a period of time giving the constructivist the opportunity to track changes
(Prensky, pp 1–6. 2001). Investigations can consequently be conducted through case studies
through the inclusion of a real-life experience that may be incorporated through the designed
framework. Upon the selection of an appropriate design framework, there is need as determined
by constructivism in taking cognizance of data collection approaches that takes the opinions and
perceptions of the respondents based on their individual experiences. The use of semi-structured
and qualitative approaches of research is in this case considered as essential in aiding the
collection of data.
Critical Research Paradigm;
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This paradigm elevates the social elements of change through a research approach that
reviews the greater social context.Critical research approaches in this case need to be designed in
an ontological manner that are centered on realities developed through other forces that are
subjected on the element of change. Knowledge and reality in light of epistemology are tied
together through an interactive process that may be challenging in separating (Shawer, pp.
333–59.2010). A critical research therefore pursues avenues of exposing the inequalities and
divisions caused socially with the view that by changing and challenging the social contexts, the
inequalities and divisions will be mitigated. In this context, critical research needs to consider the
changes that occur in policies and the manner in which impacts non-English speaking tutors.
Even though this paradigm aims at developing and advancing proficiency, the marginalization of
those who are not proficient in English is likely to occur as a result of the developed policies.
Researches may therefore consider asking the questions listed below:
How will the teachers who lack proficiency in speaking English be impacted by these changes
In consideration of the fact that the theoretical considerations are in this case constituted
and the research questions also framed, researchers only need to choose an approach aimed at
conducting the study. Sources determine that there is need to take cognizance of the value of
study and avoid the element of subjectivity and duality (Shawer, pp. 333–59.2010). The
qualitative approach remains the most preferred methodological approach in conducting such a
study since the voices of the marginalized individuals also play a significant role.
The interpretation of research whether it is qualitative or quantitative relies upon the
researches clarity in the theoretical stances that are developed with the aim of guiding the
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research methodologies and data collection an interpretation approaches. In voicing out issues, it
is therefore essential to make use of the qualitative and quantitative research approaches that
shared the same characteristics with the action research considering that the perceptions of the
researchers are directed towards the belief that knowledge is a social construct.
Differences in Positions Held
When research questions are tackled from a different angle, it is noticeable that there are
ontological and epistemological bearings that are pegged with these studies. This therefore
determines that the problem and develops a research approach that collects data and analysis’s
with the aim of establishing a solution to this (Hargreaves, pp. 3-17. 2007).Ontology in relation
to this has the capacity to question what is available for a study. In line with the views of the
positivists, a research study remains an external objective reality where evidence is empirically
collected by observations made and experimentations. The positiviststake consideration of the
statistical relationships and casual connections that exist in the manner in which human behavior
is defined as a quantifiable variable.
On the other hand, the perception that an individual’s behavior remains stable across
different contexts is however disputed by the interpretivist since this remains the study of the
external realities. The interpretivist position believes that reality is an individually constructed
concept that is primarily based on apersonalized analysis of a situation(Hargreaves,pp. 3-17.
2007). The interpretivist criticizes the positivists for neglecting the elements of interpreting
individuals and refutes the allegations that casual effects are considered linear.
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In order to understand the aspect of behavior in the lenses of the interpretivists view,
there is a need to take consideration of how sense is derived out of the world. In this case,
differences are likely to be seen between the positivist approach and their orientation with the
interpretivists in the manner in which reality is developed, a factor that leads to apt reality (Open
University 2014a). However, researchers tent to reject the positivist approach on objectivity and
neutrality. These researches consequently argue against an interpretivists view since these views
are developed on social elements that fail to understand the behaviors and interactions of human
The constructionist share insights with the critical researcher’s ontological views that
perceive reality as a component that is greater than an individual, but the constructivist believe
that reality can only be shaped through a process of communication. The constructivist also has
variable views that differ from that of the positivist’s ontological stance(Open University 2014a).
According to the holders of this paradigm, the reality is not objective but subjective and only
depends upon the shared meaning. In as much as the constructivists do not agree with the fact
that different interpretations can be developed in line with this same phenomenon’s, they share
the same notion with the interpretivist. In addition to this, the positivists believe that reality can
only be understood in light of a procedural approach that includes objectivity a factor that
implies that the phenomenon is uniform and measurable across different contexts (Open
According to the positivists, there is a distinction between objects and subjects that grant
a value-free research that are transparent and free from fallacies. On the other hand, the
interpretivists stick to their views that perceive the element of value as inherent within a research
process. However, research tends to lie on the interpretivists since it acknowledges that value
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tends to be present when a researcher is neutral (Open University 2014b). Critical researchers
therefore dig deep in viewing change and empowerment as an approach directed towards
critiquing the interpretivists, with this considered to lack credibility is some areas.
Constructivists in line with this believe that reality remains a shared construct developed through
interaction. Here, meaning is developed through a social process on an agentive mind with the
ontological and epistemological orientations having the capacity to approaches of
conceptualizing and addressing issues.
The polarization of research methods therefore takes precedence in two approaches that
incorporate the qualitative and quantitative approaches that are aligned towards particular
paradigms (Open University 2014c). Positivism centrally relies upon the integration of
qualitative data while the interpretivist and the constructivists hugely focus on qualitative
methods in the collection of data.
The qualitative and quantitative research methods in line with these paradigms has been
critiqued by several schools of thought that believe that all research studies are designed under
the directives of the qualitative and quantitative methods of research and that combining both
this methods can be beneficial (Open University 2014d). Tied to the quantitative-qualitative
dichotomy is an objective-subjective methodology that believes the qualitative approach to data
collection produces objective data that is free from biases whereas the quantitative method in
inherently subjective and can be contextualized.
Researchers who use the qualitative approach are therefore bound to make subjective
decisions during the synthesis of data. These can determine the neutrality of the research
approach that is prevalent when learning approaches may be hard to achieve (Stylianou, et.al).
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The researchers who incline towards the positivist side view the aspect of neutrality as
theoretical assumptions presented in a methodological approach.
An experimental model in this case determines the viability of an educational
intervention and its effectiveness and depicts the use of a randomized control trail as an element
in accomplishing this study. Through a well formulated and structured RCT the holders of this
ideology can establish some of the casual ties that related to this study. Torgerson (2009)
recognizes the need to employ this approach in a complex scenario however; he overlooks the
errors that are likely to occur through this approach (Torgerson, 2009). It is therefore important
to mention that a randomized allocation of a subject is a significant factor and without it,
researchers are bound to experience biases that may invalidate an experiment.
The aspects of scale and scope also remain significant factors to mention. Torgerson
(2009) suggests that there are quantitative limitations to experimental designs and asserting that a
qualitative study remains an important research method. Blatchford (2010) alleges that a
momentous study comes from the avoidance of polarization of the qualitative and quantitative
methods. This clearly indicates that the differences that a research holds can be conducted
through the use of an alternative approach that aims at increasing the pedagogical validity of the
findings thus aligning this proponent to the constructivist orientation.
A longitudinal study that is used as a design frame and is mainly aligned with the
positivistic paradigm is mixed with other design methods that operate under various paradigms.
These studies according to studies are considerably large and can only be implemented over
duration of time, a factor that makes them more prevalent in the production of generalized views.
Similar to experimental designs, the longitudinal method uses a randomized approach to
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selecting participants. Randomization in this aspect is not initiated to castigate the differences
between the participants but to produce a sample that represents the population as opposed to the
The use of both the qualitative and quantitative approaches intrigues the aspect of
including an investigation to ascertain the responses to the research questions and whether they
have meaning (Gage, pp. 4-10. 2009). However, it is significant to underline the positivists in
many instances are only concerned the validity of data and its replicability, aspects that are not in
any way associated with the qualitative methodology. The interpretivist and the constructivist
views in this case would both conduct a research approach that unveils the opinions and
perspectives of the outcomes over time duration.
In a case study design frame, it is imperative to understand that the researchers have the
capacity to conduct a study and discover the authenticities of life since the functions of these
design frames are based on an individual or at times they are combined with other design frames.
This approach shares its similarities with ethnography in as much as the two design frames may
differ in their implementation (Hammersley, pp. 3-14. 2006). Case studies enable the researchers
to be placed as observers whereas in ethnography the researcher is viewed as a participant.
Considering the proponents of ontology and epistemology, the positivists pursue approaches
aimed at determining the casual links in as study (Helsper, & Eynon, pp. 503–20. 2010).
This clearly indicates a point when English is introduced as an instructional standard.
This would mean that English would be viewed as an essential subject that fosters and develops
proficient speaking within the learners. The positivists in this line would either support or refute
this approach through empirical indications that replicates knowledge. The positivists may,
EDUCATIONAL ENQUIRY 16
therefore, ask the below-stated research question;Critical researcher paradigm pursues
approaches of exposing the inequalities that exist within a social environment by revitalizing
change. In as much as case studies and ethnographies allows critical researcher to explore the
voices of different individual within the society, an action research would only align its functions
in challenging social practices (Hammersley, pp. 3-14. 2006). An action research explicitly
rejects a value-free research objective and expanding on this, it also rejects positivism. However,
an action research is weaved to the interpretivism paradigm a factor that initiates the efforts of
critical studies, a factor that contrasts the difference in the mentioned design frames.
Through this study, it is essential to ascertain that the discussions have mainly
concentrated on how the paradigmatic positions have the capacity to shape the decisions and
choices of individuals (Livingstone, pp. 207-231.2010). These positions can also determine the
manner, in which a problem is viewed, how research questions are formulated, including the
methodological approaches, the design of a time frame, the procedures for gathering data and the
analysis of the collected data as determined by the research rationale. This process is, therefore,
cumulative with this point now focusing on my opinions and views in regards to the analysis of
the differences between the four paradigms. In line with this, it is important to note that I am
aligned substantially to the constructivist paradigm.
I have discovered that I immensely relate to the ontological ideology that believes that
reality is a socially constructed approach. The ideas behind the agentive minds that purport that
an individual may be active within the process of construction revolve around the wealth of
knowledge I have acquired within the sector of education. As indicated in the constructivist
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concept within the field of education, the aspect of interaction plays a significant role in creating
an in-depth understanding of a problem and growing the levels of knowledge. This approach
remains one of the essential elements I am pursuing in my classroom environment. According to
the constructivists and the interpretivism, there are certain ontological similarities that the two
methods face. Both of these ideologies centrally focus on individuals, a characteristic that I
wholly disagree with.
Considering the fact that I have gained a lot of knowledge through the duties I have
performed in different social environments and cultures, the attention that this paradigm gives an
individual was not well received within my own ontological and epistemological orientations.
Basing the fact from my own theoretical analysis, I find constructivism an important element
since it refutes on the factors that make the research methodology dichotomous aspect and allows
research to develop from the roots of investigating a problem. Hodkinson and Macleod (2010)
allege that research methods have various weaknesses and strengths, and those researchers need
to determine the appropriate methods that have the capacity to address the research questions. A
closer focus on these paradigms clearly revealed to me that the positivistic paradigm structured
its research approaches through a quantitative approach focusing on receiving an empirical data.
Due to this factor it is essential to note that the end results of the study only gave a generalized
and a replicable outcome.
It is, therefore, necessary to detail that these approaches appeared to derive the
complexities of a learning approach and the individualism that is presented by this approaches.
In my view, positivism mitigates the efforts of a research approach by conforming to an already
structured method of research. In addition to this, positivism also differs with my knowledge on
how quantitative data is gathered. To complete the wider picture, the idea that qualitative
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methods and data can be integrated would be an important element in a research study. I also
agree with on the characteristics of critical research that include the ontological and
epistemological elements. This is under the consideration of the fact thatthey make the pursuit of
social knowledge and change ideal within the context of neutrality and objectivity.
Research evidence that is developed to inform education practice remains an important
element that can be acquired from different sources. The variability in the structure of research
and design through which evidence are obtained is exhaustive. Through an analysis into the
paradigms provided in this paper, it was determined that research plays a central role in
understanding their functions (Lather, pp. 63–84. 2008). In other words, there is no research
paradigm that is superior since each has a specific purpose in providing a distinct approach in
which knowledge is acquired and dispensed. This clearly depicts the need for educational
researches geared towards providing an understanding of the key theoretical and methodological
perspectives. The outcomes of this research studies should, therefore, empower and envisage
new practices and policies that have the capacity to meet the current emerging needs of
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Gage, N.L. 2009 ‘The Paradigm Wars and Their Aftermath: A ‘Historical’ Sketch of Research on
Teaching since 1989′, Educational Researcher, vol. 18, no. 7, pp. 4-10 [Online] Stable
Hammersley, M. 2006 ‘Ethnography: problems and prospects’, Ethnography and Education, 1:1,
Hargreaves, D. 2007 ‘Teaching as a research-based profession: Possibilities and prospects.’ in
Martyn Hammersley (ed.) Educational Research and Evidence-Based Practice, London,
Sage, pp. 3-17
Hargreaves, E. 1997 ‘The diploma disease in Egypt: Learning, teaching, and the monster of the
secondary leaving certificate.’ Assessment in Education 4, no. 1:161-76.
Helsper, E.J. and Eynon, R. 2010 ‘Digital natives: where is the evidence?’, British Educational
Research Journal, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 503–20.