The Power of the Paradigm: Methods and Paradigms in Education Research

The Power of the Paradigm: Methods and Paradigms in Education Research

Lorraine Ling (Victoria University, Australia & La Trobe University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1738-2.ch002
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In this chapter, the six paradigms explored in this book—positivist, neo-positivist, interpretivist, transformative, pragmatic and supercomplexity—are described and the key elements of each paradigm are discussed. These key elements are ontology, epistemology, axiology, methodology, and outcomes. The paradigm does not pre-determine the methodology or methodologies to be used. Rather how qualitative and quantitative methodologies will be used is determined by the paradigm and thus both available methodologies can and perhaps should be used in all paradigms. The research paradigm is the focal point because awareness of the paradigm within which the research is undertaken helps to ensure consistency between elements of the research: the aim; the research question; the appropriate forms of data and data analysis; and the nature of the outcomes and the conclusions that may be reached.
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The Chapter

In this chapter the underlying themes and issues addressed in the book are detailed. The book is focused on the discipline of education and the forms of research that occur within it. In particular the paradigms within which the research occurs and the types of methodologies that are employed are addressed. In this chapter traditional approaches to education research that are based on supposed methodological dichotomies are confronted. Researchers are provided with a framework for the design, implementation and interpretation of research, based on research paradigms. Myths about research—which are commonly perpetuated through some research courses in universities and colleges, in text books about undertaking research, and in scholarly articles and journals dealing with research—are challenged. Elements of paradigms that can be employed in education research are described. The elements of paradigms that are addressed here are the ontology, axiology, epistemology, methodology, and the nature of the outcomes that are commensurate with each paradigm.

The term research paradigm used throughout the book is taken to mean a world-view or a set of assumptions and understandings about key aspects of the research: the nature of reality or truth (ontology); the intent, ethics and values of the researcher (axiology); the understanding of the nature of knowledge and how it may be known (epistemology); the way information is obtained (methodology); and the nature of the research outcomes. The paradigm underpinning a particular education research project or report may be implicit rather than explicit.

There are many labels used for the various paradigms that have been discussed in research literature but in this book five labels that broadly align with paradigm distinctions found in other literature are used—positivist, neo-positivist, interpretivist, transformative, and pragmatic. What we have styled neo-positivist is usually referred to as post-positivist. There are two problems with using the prefix “post” as post describes what something is not rather than what it is, and any of the paradigms, other than positivist, could be described as post-positivist. There is, however, a paradigmatic approach, generally referred to as post-positivist, that shares something of the same ontology—the same notions of order and pattern in the world—as positivism but with a lower level of certainty. In the social sciences this paradigm may be said to have superseded simple positivism. We therefore use the descriptor “neo.”

A sixth paradigm is advanced in this book—the paradigm of supercomplexity (Barnett, 2000). It is introduced both to acknowledge the multiple complexities found in the contexts in which education research is now conducted and to provide for imaginative, creative, divergent research outcomes and for research that problematizes rather than resolves issues and situations.

The intent is to use these paradigms to discuss the philosophical assumptions and intentions that underpin each paradigm and to indicate how key elements—ontology, axiology, epistemology, methodology, and the nature of the research outcomes—are reflected in each of the paradigms.

One of the key messages put forward is that it is the paradigm within which the research is undertaken that will allow the researcher to decide on the purpose of the research, for whom it is likely to be beneficial or valuable, how it may be conducted, from whom or what to obtain data, how the data may be best gathered and analyzed, the rhetoric or discourse appropriate throughout the research study, and the action verbs that will describe what it is that the researcher is actually doing, for example: exploring, inquiring, testing, measuring, confronting, disturbing, uncovering, creating, problematizing. The claim is made here that for coherence of research design, implementation and conclusions, the researcher needs to address these decisions and clearly nominate and articulate the paradigm of research within which the study is to be carried out.

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