Transcending the Qualitative-Quantitative Debate: The Analytic and Systemic Approaches to Educational Research

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There is a distinction to be made that transcends the one between the quantitative and qualitative research paradigms. It is a distinction between that kind of research that suits best the study of causal relations among selected variables and the study of complex learning environments undergoing change. Two studies illustrating the differences lead to the formulation of two approaches–the analytic and the systemic–which differ from each other in terms of the epistemological assumptions that underlie them. These differences are not accounted for by other contrasts such as “'basic-applied” or “quantitative-qualitative.” The analytic approach mainly assumes that discrete elements of complex educational phenomena can be isolated for study, leaving all else unchanged. The systemic approach mainly assumes that elements are interdependent, inseparable, and even define each other in a transactional manner so that a change in one changes everything else and thus requires the study of patterns, not of single variables. It is, however, further argued that the validity of each approach is limited by the combination of assumptions made, phenomena chosen for study, questions asked, and research methodologies employed. Thus, the two approaches, by epistemological necessity, have to be employed complementarily.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-18
Number of pages9
JournalEducational Researcher
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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