Stepping beyond the paradigm wars: pluralist methods for research in learning technology
This paper outlines a problem we have found in our own practice when we have been developing new researchers at post-graduate level. When students begin research training and practice, they are often confused between different levels of thinking when they are faced with methods, methodologies and research paradigms. We argue that this confusion arises from the way research methods are taught, embedded and embodied in educational systems. We set out new ways of thinking about levels of research in the field of learning technology. We argue for a problem driven/pragmatic approach to research and consider the range of methods that can be applied as diverse lenses to particular research problems. The problem of developing a coherent approach to research and research methods is not confined to research in learning technology because it is arguably a problem for all educational research and one that also affects an even wider range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary subject areas. For the purposes of this paper we will discuss the problem in relation to research in learning technologies and make a distinction between developmental and basic research that we think is particularly relevant in this field. The paradigms of research adopted have real consequences for the ways research problems are conceived and articulated, and the ways in which research is conducted. This has become an even more pressing concern in the challenging funding climate that researchers now face. We argue that there is not a simple 1 to 1 relationship between levels and most particularly that there usually is not a direct association of particular methods with either a philosophical outlook or paradigm of research. We conclude by recommending a pluralist approach to thinking about research problems and we illustrate this with the suggestion that we should encourage researchers to think in terms of counterpositives. If the researcher suggests one way of doing research in an area, we suggest that they should then set out an opposing research approach from another perspective or paradigm. We link this conclusion to the provision of research training and the kinds of curricula that might be offered and we argue against the superficial and box ticking ‘coverage’ of different standard research perspectives e.g. ‘qualitative methods’ - ‘qualitative methods’.
Keywords: qualitative methods; quantitative methods; mixed methods; paradigms; methodology