The basics of educational research

The Basics of Educational Research


Research is defined by the Department of Education and Training of the University of Sydney as “the creation of new knowledge and/or the use of existing knowledge in a new and creative way so as to generate new concepts, methodologies and understandings. This could include synthesis and analysis of previous research to the extent that it leads to new and creative outcomes.” Meanwhile, Cambridge Dictionary defines education as “the process of teaching and learning, or the organisations such as schools where this process happens”.

An amalgamation of the two terms brings about educational research; which is in itself, a form of research distinct from others. Educational Research has been defined to be a systematic attempt to gain a better understanding of the educational process, generally with a view in improving its efficiency. It is an application of the scientific method to the study of educational problems. 

Lazarsfeld and Sieber defined educational research as “the whole of the efforts carried out by public or private bodies to improve educational methods and educational activity in general, whether involving scientific research at a high level or more modest experiments concerning the school system and educational methods”. Having laid down the foundation of what educational research is, its boundaries would be explored consequently.

Difference between academic research and contract research

The distinguishing factor between educational research and other forms of research is the complexity arising from the setting it is intended for. Educational researchers draw strength from a variety of disciplines such as psychology, sociology, anthropology and philosophy to proffer solutions to problems relating to students’ learning, teachers’ training, teaching methods and classroom dynamics.

Features/Characteristics of Educational Research

Gary Anderson, in his book, Fundamentals of Educational Research, outlined ten characteristics of educational research out of which two stood out:

  • Research emphasizes the development of generalisations, principles or theories that will help in understanding, prediction and/or control. This is a feature common to all forms of research but educational researchers have conferred more importance upon it. A method of teaching proven to be effective under certain conditions must be replicable under similar conditions in another setting. This is important as life-changing decisions are made based on available evidence to support the different stances under consideration.
  • Research requires expertise –familiarity with the field; competence in methodology; technical skill in collecting and analysing the data. The methodology involved in educational research is slightly different from that of others. The psychology of respondents of surveys and the severity of decisions made based on those researches require a depth of skills from the researcher to guarantee the reliability of the research. 

Other features of educational research can be explained under the categories below:

Multiple Disciplinary Perspectives: The major disciplines involved in educational research are psychology, sociology, anthropology and philosophy. However, educational research requires more than the expertise of the researcher in his field. 

Ethical Considerations: Gathering of materials for educational research purposes can be a daunting task. Researchers are sometimes faced with ethical issues impeding the gathering and publication of research findings. An example is surveys and questionnaires taken by children and minors, to which their parents have to consent before. This consent is not always forthcoming as parents seek to protect their children from whatever they are averse to as well as protect the privacy of their children.

Relationships: The different disciplines involved in educational research often find themselves interrelated and researchers have to work through the intricacies of each discipline to provide an empirical result. This has made it imperative for researchers to collaborate over time to thoroughly explore the facets of research objects and ideas.

Purpose of Educational Research

The purpose of educational research is to investigate the conceptual, technical and methodological problems faced in educational environments. Unlike other forms of research, educational research requires the researcher to investigate the different nuances of the education sector, taking into regard all the stakeholders involved and how the result of the research would affect them before proffering solutions to problems.

Katrina Korb of the Department of Educational Training, University of Jos, gives the purposes of educational research to include the exploration and development of novel knowledge about teaching-learning situations to improve educational practice by addressing the following variables:

Learning: what is the best way to learn a subject?

Teaching: what are the best teaching practices to foster student achievement

Motivation: what are the best ways for teachers to motivate their students to achieve?

Development: how do children and adults change over time, including their cognitive, social and emotional skills?

Classroom management: what classroom or school habits make the classroom best for student learning?

Importance of Educational Research

John Creswell gave the importance of educational research to be the contribution to knowledge development, practical improvement and policy formation. These three arms affect different stakeholders involved in education. Students can utilise research findings to guide them in their academics as well as in making decisions relating to their education. Educators can use research findings to improve their competencies and teaching and learning process. Finally, policymakers and lawmakers acquire the empirical evidence needed to make suitable policies and laws to improve education. 

Other importance of educational research include that; it helps identify new practices, technologies and knowledge of the way people learn develops; it assists students and parents on making decisions regarding schools, courses; it aids counsellors and administrators in guiding students to the right path in furtherance of their education.


Educational research is a very sensitive area of research that has its peculiarities distinguishing it from other forms of research. This insight to the basics of educational research is to prepare readers for the nuances of educational research, the major developments in educational research, notable educational research organisations in the world and the peculiarities of educational research.

Written by Aisha Yusuf for ResearchRound

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