As a doctoral student in any field of study, you will find that all research can be separated into two distinct methodologies: qualitative and quantitative. When choosing one method or the other for your study, there is no right or wrong answer, as both can offer researchers important insights—particularly in the field of education.
Qualitative vs. quantitative studies in education programs commonly evaluate issues in curriculum, practices and policies. Research findings are often the catalysts for change because they help administrators pinpoint problems so they can identify appropriate solutions. Depending on their objectives, researchers can conduct studies on a small scale to help them learn more about instruction in the classroom, or they can use a large-scale study to assess school curriculum and how to improve student outcomes.
Defining Qualitative and Quantitative Research in Education
Qualitative and quantitative research in education can have many objectives in common. Researchers must understand the fundamental functions of each methodology to produce a successful study with actionable results. This knowledge will allow you to choose the best methodology for your specific goals.
Qualitative Research Creates Hypothesis
Qualitative studies focus on the thoughts, concepts or experiences of the individuals being studied. The qualitative approach is useful for understanding how and why people behave the way they do. The data collected is often in narrative form and focuses on common insights that can lead to a testable hypothesis.
Quantitative Research Draws Conclusions
Quantitative studies produce numerical data that is analyzed using mathematical and statistical methods. This type of study is used to find data to test a hypothesis, find correlations and examine possible causation.
Collecting the Data
The main distinctions between qualitative and quantitative research—and the type of information they gather—have now been defined. But there are also differences in the ways that each research method acquires data. The collection methods you choose will, again, depend on your study’s objectives.
Interviews and behavioral observations serve as two data collection methods for qualitative and quantitative studies. These can be used with both methods of study to varying ends.
Here are examples of how these methods can be applied in an educational setting:
In a qualitative study, open-ended questions are posed to students with the goal of disclosing ideas and beliefs around a particular topic, such as learning a foreign language. Data may reveal that students are not getting enough classroom learning time to build their proficiency levels, or that there is a lack of support outside the classroom.
In a quantitative study, the interview poses fixed, closed-ended questions to receive numerical answers. In this case, such questions might be: How many hours a week do students receive instruction in a foreign language? Of those hours, how much time is spent listening or speaking in that language? Both qualitative and quantitative methods will result in useful findings, but the research will differ in its design and end goal.
In this method, a qualitative study may observe students in a classroom and record their body language, facial expressions and verbal responses during a math lesson. It may also observe how these behaviors are similar or different among boys and girls.
A quantitative study will start with a set of predetermined behaviors (e.g., chewing on a pencil or twisting hair) and will record these behaviors using numerical data. For example, how many students chew on their pencils during the math lesson, or how often do girls play with their hair during the same lesson?
Other research methods for qualitative studies include case studies and focus groups, both of which gather data through observation and guided conversation. Quantitative research may also include surveys and questionnaires to explore a particular topic in greater depth or test cause-and-effect relationships.
Choosing a Research Method for Your EdD Program
If you’re still unsure which research method is the best approach for your doctorate in education (EdD) program of study, there are two additional considerations to take into account:
- Stage of your study: If your research project is still in its infancy and requires more research to find a testable hypothesis, using the qualitative method may be the best way to accomplish your goal. If, on the other hand, you have already developed your hypothesis and need further data to confirm your theory or improve it for further testing, then you may want to use the quantitative method.
- Research goals: As previously mentioned, it’s important to refine the goals of your research so you can conduct a successful study. Using the math lesson as an example, ask yourself are you trying to collect data that shows how to encourage student participation in math class (qualitative)? Or, are you trying to determine how many students who are being tutored are passing math class (quantitative)?
Earning Your Doctoral Degree in Education
Research in an education setting aims to identify what matters most to students and how their education can be improved. Continuous improvement in policies, curriculum and practices are common goals among school administrators. Research plays an essential role in supporting these goals by gaining perspectives and data directly from the students.
If you are interested in applying your research skills to help develop new ideas and ways to improve the education system, you should consider applying to a doctoral program in education. A doctorate degree in organizational leadership prepares future educators, school administrators and other education professionals for leadership roles within their schools and facilities. Other EdD degrees to consider include:
- K–12 Education Leadership in Qualitative Research or Quantitative Research
- Higher Education Leadership in Qualitative Research or Quantitative Research
- Special Education Leadership in Qualitative Research or Quantitative Research
- Behavioral Health Leadership in Qualitative Research or Quantitative Research
- Healthcare Administration in Qualitative Research or Quantitative Research
- Organizational Development in Qualitative Research or Quantitative Research
Some universities and colleges provide doctoral paths that focus specifically on qualitative or quantitative research practices. Although the core curriculum and instruction will be the same, differences will often emerge during the research phase of the EdD program. This includes the design of the study, the collection and analysis of the data and the presentation of the findings based on the method you choose.
Students in a qualitative EdD program will focus on uncovering important patterns and identifying key trends that have a great impact on the education industry. In contrast, quantitative learners will examine and analyze events and produce data that will help propel the education industry forward. To find the best EdD program for your research goals, speak with your admissions counselor.
Careers With a Qualitative or Quantitative Education Degree
Earning your EdD degree gives you the experience and confidence you need to pursue your dream career in the education field. Upon completion of your doctoral program, you’ll be well versed in both the quantitative and qualitative research methods, understanding the unique applications and features of each.
And although both methods can be applied successfully within most education fields, you’ll have the knowledge to conduct the study that is best suited for your particular job and goals.
For example, some positions within education that benefit from expertise in qualitative research analysis include:
- Academic dean
- Behavioral health expert
- Social worker
- Early childhood educator
Education careers that benefit from skills in quantitative research analysis include:
- Education research analyst
- District administrator
- Policy maker
- Curriculum developer
Consider earning a qualitative EdD in K–12 leadership or a quantitative EdD in organizational development from Grand Canyon University. The programs offered through the College of Doctoral Studies at GCU give doctoral learners the flexibility and resources to achieve their goals. To learn more about GCU’s doctoral programs, click on the Request More Information button at the top of this page.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.