Quantitative and Qualitative Research Approaches in Education

By Hara, Katsuko | Education, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview
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Quantitative and Qualitative Research Approaches in Education


Hara, Katsuko, Education


Introduction

Quantitative and qualitative research approaches in education have arisen from different research needs. The quantitative research approach endlessly pursues facts while the qualitative research approach recognizes that the researcher's viewpoint is central. The quantitative research approach is used when the researcher desires to obtain entire trends or statistical truth in the research while the qualitative research approach is used if the researcher wants to observe in detail by his/her own research viewpoint.

In this paper, I attempt to examine what is inherently different between the quantitative and qualitative research approaches in education. First of all, I attempt to investigate the concepts behind both research approaches focusing on their origins and underlying philosophies. And, then, I attempt to discuss the strengths and weakness of both approaches.

What is Behind the Concept of Quantitative Research in Education?

Quantitative research in education developed from the quantitative research used in natural science (Carr & Kemmis, 1986). Carr and Kemmis (1986) explain that there were two reasons for accepting the quantitative research of natural science into the educational research area. First, the concepts, purposes and methods of quantitative research used in natural science were applicable to the education research area and second, it was able to provide logical standards for educational research. From the quantitative research of natural science, the firm conviction has arisen that to investigate and to make explicit definitions of facts were of primary importance in doing education research. There was a research goal to find out universal truth in the quantitative research used in natural science. Quantitative research in education has, thus, attempted to discover existing facts under the research belief that the research act must be a neutral activity from the researchers subjective viewpoint (Smith, 1983). Thus, Smith (1983) places quantitative research as a "journey of the facts" (p. 10).

According to Smith, there was a belief that "neutral, scientific language" (p.9) must be used in quantitative research in order to find out exact facts. Neutral scientific language means to express the research itself by digits which was universally acceptable and had unchanged function in all research environments. It was believed that using neutral scientific language was effective not only for providing the research facts but also for explaining the statistical truth. In addition, neutral scientific language was able to directly show the results of research without a researcher's value judgments. That is to say, the research results existed in isolation from the researcher's viewpoint. In Carr and Kemmis's (1986) words, a researcher was considered to be "an outsider to the research" or an objective observer.

In sum, the quantitative research in education emphasizes the discovery of existing facts by employing neutral scientific language. Philosophically, this view is based on a "subject-object relationship" (Smith, 1983, p.8) in which human reality is able to be isolated and exists independently from the researcher's subjectivity. The results of the data analysis, therefore, are presented in a numerical and objective way. The research goal of quantitative research is a discovery of universal value. Universal value means that the research value is universally applicable regardless of time, place, culture and other factors. This concept is largely linked to the generalizability of research. In quantitative research, in order to make generalizability, objectivity of the research is particularly emphasized by using neutral scientific language.

What is Behind the Concept of Qualitative Research in Education?

In contrast to quantitative research in education, qualitative research in education recognizes that the researcher's subjectivity deeply affects the research.

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