Gratton. R. (2011): Methodology and Research Design

What we think about learning influences where we recognize learning, as well as what we can do when we decide that we must do something about it

(Wenger, 2009, p.214)

Eight years into my career as an educator I realised that delivery of the triumvirate of knowledge, understanding and skills in their traditional guise was no longer appropriate preparation of adolescent learners for their place in the Brave New World (see for example Long, 1990; Field, 2000; Skidmore, 2003; Alheit, 2009 for a discussion of how education systems need to respond to global economic and social change). Pedagogies which actively fostered a learning orientation (Watkins et al., 2002), a willingness to learn (see Skidmore, 2003, p.15), and the attributes that could enable a capacity to engage with learning lifelong (first used by Yaxlee, 1929) and lifewide (Ekholm and Hard, 2000, p.18; Alheit, 2009, p.117), offered a route to empowering students with the cognitive and social tools that would enable them to positively interact with an unknown future (see Costa, 1991; Broadfoot, 1996, p.23; Costa and Liebman, 1997; Skidmore, 2003, p.14; Watkins et al., 2007, p.18; Costa and Kallick, 2009).

I had become increasingly interested in learning as a social phenomenon (Candy, 1991; Wenger, 2009) and felt that socialised-learning, particularly collaborative learning, could nurture skills and attributes associated with lifelong-lifewide learning. Nearly 5 years ago I embarked upon a Masters degree in Guiding Effective Learning at the Institute of Education culminating in a research paper entitled Learning Together, Learning Forever (Gratton, 2011). Within this paper I explored the myriad effects of an engagement with a pedagogy designed to facilitate Collaborative Group Learning (CGL) within a History classroom in a North London Secondary School. Central to the narrative were the experiences and perceptions of the thirty Year 8 boys (aged 12-13 years) who experienced CGL over a period of twenty-four weeks. It was the weight of their collective voice that enabled this research to transcend time-bound contexts, becoming something that now, to my great pride, influences the pedagogy of a number of international educators.


Methodology and research design 

in describing and analyzing people’s involvement in practical action in the world…[we] are in effect analyzing peoples’ engagement in learning.

(Lave, 2009, p.201)

A phenomenological and qualitative methodological approach to action research was chosen as I sought to identify the effects of a particular phenomenon (CGL) on social-learning change, drawing particular attention to the situation and an individual’s interpretation of it.  A mixed-method approach of data collection sought to generate a rich source of predominantly qualitative evidence, primarily in the form of participant voice with particular bias towards the voices of those learners engaging in CGL. Data as it emerged was analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (Smith et al., 2009) presented as a narrative and interpretive commentary constructed from empirical assertions derived from and grounded by direct quotations extracted from the data set.

In order to engineer, facilitate and record the effects of CGL the following design was implemented:

  • heterogeneous groups (G1-G5) were constructed;
  • a pre-study questionnaire was used to gain an insight into the classes’ perceptions about teaching, learning and the learning skills they felt they possessed;
  • practices which sought to facilitate CGL were designed and delivered over a period of twenty-four weeks (thirty-six teaching hours);
  • the effects of an engagement with CGL were explored using a combination of in-class observational notes, questionnaires and focus group interviews; and an end-of-study questionnaire.

If you are interested in finding out more about this research study feel free to contact me;



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