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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning guide

Research study designs

“How do we justify our choice and use of methodologies and methods? The answer lies ….. with the purpose of our research."

Michael Crotty (1998)

Aligning research question to study design

Before getting started with a SoTL research project it’s helpful to reflect on study designs. The main difference between quantitative and qualitative study designs is what types of data are collected and analysed.

The Center for Engaged Learning suggests SoTL questions are best answered with a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods (aka mixed-methods). However, the most important consideration is matching the most appropriate evidence for your research question and the type of data that will collect that evidence.

Explore these study designs in more detail by reading below.

Qualitative research

Is an approach used to explore and develop a deeper understanding of a complex topic, specific context or phenomenon. It focuses on capturing in-depth insights and meanings rather than numerical measurements. Qualitative research involves collecting and analysing non-numerical data, such as interviews, observations, and audio-visual media.  

For a more extensive explanation, you can explore Deakin’s Qualitative study design guide.

Quantitative research

Primarily focuses on measuring and analysing numerical data to explore a specific research question. This type of research aids in the identification and comprehension of patterns, group differences, relationships, and trends. Analysing quantitative data involves descriptive and inferential statistics, and it is useful for systematically describing large collections of data, which necessitates statistical training or experience.

Explore Deakin’s Quantitative study design guide for further explanation and guidance.

Mixed Methods

Takes an integrative approach and incorporates elements of both quantitative and qualitative research. It carefully considers the interplay between the two types of data and how they form coherent and conclusive findings. Mixed methods research offers the potential to gain a more holistic understanding of a question by blending the strengths of quantitative and qualitative methods, However, this approach should only be used when both data types are necessary to effectively address the research question.

Differences at a glance

There are three main differences between qualitative and quantitative research, the purpose, data type, approach and analysis. Whereas mixed methods research incorporates aspects from both qualitative and quantitative research. View the table/image below to compare the differences.

Image overview

The image contains 3 boxes. The first box is titled 'Qualitative', the second box is titled 'Quantitative'. Both boxes have an arrow directing to the third box titled 'Mixed Methods'. Indicating that Mixed Methods incorporates aspects from both qualitative and quantitative research.

The information contained in the boxes is outlined in the table below.

  Qualitative Quantitative
Purpose Answer "Why?" question Answer "How many/much?" question
Data methods Observation, textual and sensory artefacts Numbers or statistics
Analysis Grouping, synthesis and interpretation of data Measure and test for statistical analysis