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Quantitative vs. qualitative studies in educational research Discuss the two methodological approaches, qualitative and quantitative. What do you see as the main differences between these two approaches? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? How might you identify whether a journal article is qualitative or quantitative?

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Qualitative research differs from quantitative in that qualitative does not lend itself to statistical analysis, which is the mathematical assessment of results sets to find trends and patterns and comparisons. Qualitative research relies heavily on descriptive results: descriptions of people, places, experiences, and conversations. Qualitative research was used extensively in...

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early sociolinguistic research, for example in Labov's study ofdialect on Martha's Vineyard, before phonetic realizations were measured on the Hertz scale. Qualitative research is still a large part of sociolinguistics. As a result any study of it always includes recorded audio of natural speakers of different dialects telling of experiences, places, people, memories and conversations.

In education, qualitative research is routinely used with students after modules or classes of study are completed and upon graduation to collect data on student expectations, satisfaction, and, more importantly, dissatisfaction with program courses and with professors and with educational philosophy, for example, offering exclusively cultural studies in literature versus classical studies. Data for certain aspects of what a researcher is interested in are best collect qualitatively, as in the sociolinguistic and graduation examples, while some are best collected through quantitative research. Some are best collected and most precisely understood through data collected by both methods as in the example of sociolinguistic studies expanding to include quantitative Hertz scale data.

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Most people seem to prefer quantitative research because it is so much easier.  I was speaking to a friend last week who was invited to give a presentation on qualitative research to doctoral students in education.  She commented that most students were aghast at the time and effort involved and opted to go the shorter, simpler, and easier route for quantitative studies.

Quantitative data are often represented numerically in the form of means, percentages, or frequency counts. (enotes)

Quantitative studies are far simpler, and much more black and white.  This makes them seem easier.  However, each type involves drawbacks.  You can make statistics say pretty much anything you want.  Numbers are easily manipulated.  However, in qualitative analysis you have to determine an analysis method, so there is room for bias and skewing there too.

Ultimately, it depends on what you are trying to find out, because some questions lend themselves to one or the other.

The goal of qualitative research is to arrive at some general, overall appreciation of a phenomenonighlighting interesting aspects and perhaps generating specific hypotheses. (enotes)

If you have a question that has a lot of depth and nuance to it, and you are not really sure of the answer, a qualitative study might lend more fruit.

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My Master of Arts Education thesis was based on qualitative research. I gathered statistical information (quantitative data) as part of my project, but I was more interested in learning how teachers applied experiences, how they designed activities, how they approached working with students and with other teachers. The information that allowed me to identify trends and make generalizations regarding common patterns came from qualitative research.

Both types of research have a place in educational research. There are times when hard numerical measurements are useful and can be productively used to analyze facets of the educational process. However, there are also times when anecdotal records or other non-statistical data may be more appropriate for a particular purpose.

Quantitative studies usually focus on the measurable statistical interpretation of data. Qualitative studies do not rely exclusively upon numerically-based data.

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If we are talking about educational research, the main advantage of quantitative research is that it is more empirical and it is, in some ways, more likely to actually prove something.  In educational research, we are generally trying to determine what practices work best for educating students.  A quantitative study can be better for this because it actually shows whether students have improved, rather than relying on anecdotes or on teachers' feelings about what is going on in their classrooms.  On the other hand, however, such studies can be misleading.  We do not know for sure if we can truly measure educational progress through any particular set of numbers.  Quantitative studies may be giving us only an illusion of precision.

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