Chapter 1
Introduction to Educational Research


The purpose of Chapter One is to provide an overview of educational research and introduce you to some important terms and concepts. My discussion in this set of lectures will usually center around the same headings that are used in the book chapters. You might want to have your book open as you read through my lectures. My goal is to help you to better understand the material in the book.


Why Study Educational Research?

Here are a few reasons to take this course and learn about educational research:


Areas of Educational Research

There are many areas in educational research. As you can see in Table 1.1 (reproduced here for your convenience), there are 10 major divisions in our largest Association and there are many special interest groups (SIGs). Do you see any areas that are of interest to you?



To learn more about the areas of educational research and current issues, we recommend that you explore the AERA website at . By the way, The AERA has great student membership rates.


Examples of Educational Research

Many examples of educational research are discussed throughout your textbook. To get you started, we have reproduced the abstracts from four journal articles in this section of the book.

An excellent way to see examples of recent educational research articles is to browse through educational journals. One excellent journal to get you started is entitled the "Journal of Educational Psychology."


General Kinds of Research


In this section we discuss five general kinds of research: basic research, applied research, evaluation research, action research, and orientational research.


Basic and Applied Research

Basic research is research aimed at generating fundamental knowledge and theoretical understanding about basic human and other natural processes. Applied research is focused on answering practical questions to provide relatively immediate solutions.


Basic and applied research can be viewed as two endpoints on a research continuum, with the center representing the idea that research can be applied research can contribute to basic research and vice versa. Here is the continuum: 




Research examining the process of cognitive "priming" is an example of relatively basic research; a comparison of the effectiveness of two approaches to counseling is an example of relatively applied research.


Basic and applied research are generally conducted by researchers at universities.


Evaluation Research

Evaluation involves determining the worth, merit, or quality of an evaluation object.

Evaluation is traditionally classified according to its purpose:


A newer and currently popular way to classify evaluation is to divide it into five types:


Evaluation is generally done by program evaluators and is focused on specific programs or products.


Action Research

Action research focuses on solving practitioner’s local problems. It is generally conducted by the practitioners after they have learned about the methods of research and research concepts that are discussed in your textbook.  It is important to understand that action research is also a state of mind; for example, teachers who are action researchers are constantly observing their students for patterns and thinking about ways to improve instruction, classroom management, and so forth. We hope you get this “state of mind” as you read our textbook!


Orientational Research

Orientational research is done for the purpose of advancing an ideological position. It is traditionally called critical theory. We use the broader term orientational research because critical theory was originally concerned only with class inequalities and was based on the Karl Marx’s theory of economics, society, and revolution.


Orientational research is focused on some form of inequality, discrimination, or stratification in society. Some areas in which inequality manifests itself are large differences in income, wealth, access to high quality education, power, and occupation. Here are some major areas of interest to orientational researchers:

·        Class stratification (i.e., inequality resulting from one’s economic class in society).

·        Gender stratification (i.e., inequality resulting from one’s gender).

·        Ethnic and racial stratification (i.e., inequality resulting from one’s ethnic or racial grouping).

·        Sexual orientation stratification (i.e., inequality and discrimination based on one’s sexual preferences)


Many orientational researchers work for universities or interest group organizations.


Sources of Knowledge

In this section we discuss how people learn about the world around them and gain knowledge. The major ways we learn can be classified into experience, expert opinion, and reasoning.


The idea here is that knowledge comes from experience. Historically, this view was called empiricism (i.e., original knowledge comes from experience). 

The term empirical means "based on observation, experiment, or experience."

Expert Opinion
 Because we don’t want to and don’t have time to conduct research on everything, people frequently rely on expert opinion as they learn about the world. Note, however, that if you rely on an expert’s opinion it is important to make sure that the expert is an expert in the specific area under discussion and you should check to see if the expert has a vested interest in the issue.



Historically, this idea was called rationalism (i.e., original knowledge comes from thought and reasoning).


There are two main forms of reasoning:


The Scientific Approach to Knowledge Generation

Science is also an approach for the generation of knowledge. It relies on a mixture of empiricism (i.e., the collection of data) and rationalism (i.e., the use of reasoning and theory construction and testing).  


Dynamics of science.
Science has many distinguishing characteristics:



Basic Assumptions of Science

In order to do science, we usually make several assumptions. Here they are as summarized in Table 1.3.




Scientific Methods


There are many scientific methods. The two major methods are the inductive method and the deductive method.


1.      State the hypothesis (based on theory or research literature).

2.      Collect data to test the hypothesis.

3.      Make decision to accept or reject the hypothesis.


·        The inductive method. This approach also involves three steps:

1.      Observe the world.

2.      Search for a pattern in what is observed.

3.      Make a generalization about what is occurring.

Virtually any application of science includes the use of both the deductive and the inductive approaches to the scientific method either in a single study or over time. This idea is demonstrated in Figure 1.1. The inductive method is as “bottom up” method that is especially useful for generating theories and hypotheses; the deductive method is a “top down” method that is especially useful for testing theories and hypotheses.






The word "theory" most simply means "explanation." Theories explain "How" and "Why" something operates as it does. Some theories are highly developed and encompass a large terrain (i.e., "big" theories or "grand" theories); others theories are "smaller" theories or briefer explanations.


We have summarized the key criteria to use in evaluating a theory in Table 1.4 and reproduced it hear for your convenience.




The Principle of Evidence

According to the principle of evidence, what is gained in empirical research is evidence, NOT proof. This means that knowledge based on educational research is ultimately tentative. Therefore, please eliminate the word "proof" from your vocabulary when you talk about research results. Empirical research provides evidence; it does not provide proof. Also note that, evidence increases when a finding has been replicated. Hence, you should take NOT draw firm conclusions from a single research study.



Objectives of Educational Research

There are five major objectives of educational research.

  1. Exploration. This is done when you are trying to generate ideas about something.
  2. Description. This is done when you want to describe the characteristics of something or some phenomenon.
  3. Explanation. This is done when you want to show how and why a phenomenon operates as it does. If you are interested in causality, you are usually interested in explanation. 
  4. Prediction. This is your objective when your primary interest is in making accurate predictions. Note that the advanced sciences make much more accurate predictions than the newer social and behavioral sciences.
  5. Influence. This objective is a little different. It involves the application of research results to impact the world. A demonstration program is an example of this.

One convenient and useful way to classify research is into exploratory research, descriptive research, explanatory research, predictive research, and demonstration research.