Social research: research paradigms

EDU 9 IMAGEResearch paradigms, also called philosophical perspectives or philosophical epochs, reflect certain assumptions with respect to the nature of the world and how we come to know about it. The philosophical stance informs the methodology and thus provides a context for the process and grounding its logic and criteria and links the choice and use of methods to the desired outcomes. Paradigms are systems of interrelated ontological, epistemological and methodological assumptions.

Epistemology is the study of knowing; essentially it is the study of what knowledge is and how it is possible. Ontology is more concerned about the natural world – how it came to be rather than an analysis of what is. Paradigms act as perspectives that provide a rationale for the research and commit the researcher to particular methods of data collection, observation and interpretation. Paradigms are thus central to research design because they impact both on the nature of the research question, i.e. what is to be studied, and on the manner in which the question is to be studied.

In designing an assignment, thesis or dissertation the principle of coherence can be preserved by ensuring that the research question and methods used fit logically within the paradigm. If a researcher planned to study the learning experience of older people (say older than 40) attending TVET College studies, the use of an objective scale to measure experiences would probably not be effective because this is not the kind of research where you can expect exact and quantifiable responses (the results will be incoherent because you will expect positivist commitments from people who probably have different motives for studying at a late stage in their lives and who will, therefore, not respond the same to questions). You can probably achieve better coherence by grouping target group members together based on certain criteria, for example gender, age brackets, geographical location, etc. By doing so, you will be adopting a positivist ontology by trying to ensure that different sections of your target group have the same origin in terms of age, gender or geography. You can also achieve more coherent results by making use of a more suitable data gathering method, for example interviews.

We can define a paradigm as an integrated cluster of substantive concepts, variables and problems attached with corresponding methodological approaches and tools. The following research paradigms are important:

  • Rationalism.
  • Empiricism.
  • Positivism.
  • Post-positivism.
  • Social constructivism.
  • Critical theory.
  • Interpretivism.
  • Functionalism.
  • Behaviourism.
  • Premodernism.
  • Modernism.
  • Postmodernism.
  • Structuralism.
  • Post-structuralism.
  • Postcolonialism.
  • Neoliberalism.

We will discuss each of the above research paradigms in articles following on this one.

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Adapting to change in education and training

COMPUTER NETWORKTelevision killed drive-in movie theatres; Kodak did not respond fast enough to the emergence of digital cameras and cell phones; many video shops did not recognise the threat that DVDs and the internet posed to them. Still there are those who refuse to accept the signs of change. The same applies to the education and training environment.

If I were to guess I would predict that quality assurance bodies and public learning institutions, especially universities, are on the endangered species list. They might survive if they adapt to change really fast, but not in their current formats or functions. Somehow I doubt if they will make the cut-off date.

The same applies to private learning providers, but many do seem to have what it takes to do contingency planning and act proactively. There are some really exciting opportunities for private learning institutions in this, but only if they have the ability to manage change. It will not be easy – the threats are numerous.

The student unrests at public universities are a threat that is already causing serious damage in many different ways. Private learning institutions seem to be less vulnerable to students increasingly making more demands. This is probably because the students of private learning institutions are older and mostly employed.

Learning institutions are taking steps to protect them against the escalating demands of students. Internationally the new brokers use the internet to sell products and services that they do not own and did not develop. Uber don’t own any cars and yet they are the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb do not own any hotels and yet they are the biggest hotel company in the world. Private learning providers can offer education and training without designing standards or developing training materials. They also do not have to have physical contact with their students.

Public learning institutions and some private ones still cling to the idea that you need large classrooms, libraries, sporting facilities, etc. and they are bullied into complying with this by quality assurance bodies that don’t see the changes in the environment. They don’t understand that soon nobody will need to own motor vehicles any longer, that education and training can take place online by means of computers, tablets and even cell phones.

Smartphones will soon have the ability to provide us with professional legal and medical assistance. In 2015 more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil energy generators. These changes enable people to move to safe living areas. They don’t need the infrastructure of metropolitan areas any longer and learning institutions can operate from the same safe areas.

You can now already choose to live and work where the weather is fine most of the year, water is available in abundance because desalination is rapidly becoming cheap, crime is (almost) non-existent and the ineffective local governments can’t charge you exorbitant fees for services that they don’t deliver.

In closing, and contradicting the above, I need point out that there seems to be an increase in resistance to electronics and especially the internet and social media amongst the youth. Young people still have a need for personal contact with other people, they need a facilitator who can answer questions and discuss salient issues. This should be kept in mind when you develop your strategy for the future.

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Book Published: The Art and Science of Assessing Student Performance


The Art and Science of Assessing Student Performance book is now available. About this book:

Conducting assessment is not just a science, but also an art. Different from the first edition of this book the emphasis in this second edition falls on the following:

  • Alignment of assessment procedures with international standards and practices.
  • More emphasis on formative assessment, feedback and workplace assessment as learning tools.
  • The promotion of cooperation between learning institutions, employers and students.

The following topics are covered:

  • A discussion of the concept assessment.
  • Preparing for assessment.
  • Conducting assessment.
  • Providing feedback on assessment.
  • Reviewing assessment instruments and procedures.

Author: Nel, J.P.

Date Published: 2016-05-31

ISBN: 978-0-620-69801-6 (print)
ISBN: 978-0-620-69802-3 (e-book)

Published By: iNtgrty

Number of Pages: 225


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