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Approaches to research

This section provides entry summarises some initial discussions about the range of methods, methodologies and strategies used to study learning at work, drawing particularly on a range of TLRP projects. The intention is to identify a range of methods in use and to provide links to the epistemological and theoretical positions that can underpin their use. Some methods (which are often used in combination) include:

  • Observation (participant/repeat/non-participant)
  • Interviewing
  • Use of technology (eg email, computer assisted interviewing, video)
  • Instruments and tools (eg questionnaires, diaries and learning logs)

A case study approach is often used, which frequently draws upon a mixture of methods. Any consideration of research methods should also give attention to:

  • Decisions about which methods to use (eg epistemological positions)
  • Methods in action (adapting and using methods in context)
  • Data handling, reduction, analysis and synthesis (eg validation, tracking, coding, etc)
  • Ethical concerns
  • Scope of the study (eg longitudinal, snap-shot)

Of course methods are not used in a vacuum. They are used in accordance with theorectical/epistemological perspectives (see 'theoretical bases'). Early Career Learning at Work (LiNEA) Project Methodology and Theoretical Frameworks by Stephen Steadman is an example of an extended commentary on methodological issues associated with researching learning at work. It is drawn from the TLRP project on Early Career Learning and the researchers had to devise a methodology to address the problems of accessing hard information on what people need to know at work when most learning at work is informal and therefore unlikely to be readily acknowledged or scarcely remembered without some pertinent prompting. Bakker, A; Kent, P; Noss, R; Hoyles, C; Bhinder, C (2006) 'It's not just magic!' Learning opportunities with spreadsheets in the financial sector shows how the 'Techno-mathematical Literacies in the Workplace' researchers investigated the needs of employees in a range of industrial and commercial workplaces to have functional mathematical and statistical knowledge that is grounded in their workplace situation, while Bakker, A; Hoyles, C; Kent, P; Noss, R (2006) Improving work processes by making the invisible visible highlights a growing need for employees to interpret and act on data representations.

Note a more general treatment of research methods in educational research, including a wider range of approaches used within TLRP, see Research Methods on this site and TLRP Capacity Building Resources Overview on the main TLRP site. Phil Hodkinson and Flora Macleod (2007), for example, illustrate how quantitative and qualitative research methods can be used in a complementary fashion in Contrasting Concepts of Learning and Contrasting Research Methodologies: some strengths and weaknesses of life history research, a paper given at an ESREA (European Society for Research on Education of Adults) Network Conference on Life History and Biography March 1st-4th 2007 Roskilde University, Denmark.

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Other possible TLRP links