RP 1

Assignment 1
Review any of the four introductory readings to the course, giving a succinct account of its argument, its key assumptions and concerns, and its strengths or problems as a foundation for research in the areas you are interested in.

2512 words.

McIntyre, J 1998, ‘Research in adult education and training’, in G Foley, (ed), Understanding Adult Education and Training, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.


McIntyre’s article explores what research actually means in adult education and training. He does this by highlighting the diversity of research practice in this field and examining the underlying paradigms of a number of research traditions using case studies to illustrate his points. This discussion, along with his own assumptions and paradigms, leads McIntyre to the conclusion that the challenge facing the adult education researcher is to move beyond the limitations of more traditional models of research to ensure that research takes place using new models that acknowledge existing frameworks and context.

First McIntyre considers the field of research by examining the background of the traditional scientific approach to research. He outlines the positivist approach to research describing it as a process whereby methods are followed with mechanical precision to ‘solve’ a particular problematic.

McIntyre is quick to stress the criticisms of an empirical approach, despite his belief that it is still recommended to students as the most respectable approach to research. His main argument implies that the human element is neglected and that perhaps the assumption that research that involves people can be approached from a purely scientific viewpoint is invalid.

He stresses that these concerns about the natural science approach to research has resulted in searches for an alternative. New viewpoints, new paradigms and an awareness of underlying assumptions are vital. McIntyre underscores the importance of paradigms, or our belief systems, as a means to help us identify our assumptions about knowledge, learning and society and become aware of differences in understanding adult education.

McIntyre then outlines four key areas where these differences in research perspectives are clearly apparent. Firstly, he points out that the strong association between the concept of education and past research in schools has tainted the adult education field, often narrowing the perspective of adult education research to focus on more formal adult learning instead of widening the field to the arena of informal learning situations.

Secondly, he highlights the tension between institutional and learner perspectives on adult education. The institutional perspective places great value on formal learning in courses while the learner perspective is more focused on the need to understand adult learner experiences which are often beyond the scope of a classroom. McIntyre points out that a framework is needed to look at how the institution and the learner interact. This has lead to a critical perspective with participatory research and social action taking place. The ideological differences between these perspectives impact upon what is accepted as the purpose of research.

McIntyre next outlines how corporatisation and restructuring can affect and sometimes direct research practices in adult education. Policy agendas and the need for research evidence to support proposed policy changes raises a number of questions for researchers about their independence and objectivity.

As a final illustration as to the differing viewpoints on research that exist among adult educators, McIntyre points out the importance of the realization that adult education occurs in context, and the need to ensure that research examines how learning takes place in context.

McIntyre develops this idea by arguing that it is this need to focus on context that therefore makes the researcher’s framework for understanding this context important.

McIntyre puts forth his belief that every adult educator has a framework for understanding adult education research contrasting this with the scientific perspective of formal and objective inquiry. He argues that research depends on the context, is affected by the researcher’s perspectives and so can take different forms and result in a wide range of activities.

McIntyre outlines a number of key issues that arise from such a viewpoint of adult education that need to be considered when researchers are undertaking inquiry. McIntyre encourages the researcher to question all aspects of the inquiry, examining areas such as the context of the inquiry, assumptions made and their effects, as well as questions in the areas of theorisising, research methods, negotiation, data, interpretation and critique.

He next discusses four case studies to illustrate the use of these inquiries in practice.

The first case study exploring adaptability of TAFE trainees is used to show the strength of empiric analysis, the use of theory to analyse the research problem and policy interest driven research. McIntyre argues that to truly grapple with the complexity of adaptability, educators would need to take the interpretative adult learners perspective and explore the informal learning taking place in the workplace.

McIntyre then leads into a case study where this interpretative perspective was taken. In this study a Catholic missionary reflected on a failed development project on an Aboriginal reserve. The difference to the previous study lies in the approach taken, where the researcher is looking reflectively into his past in an attempt to try and understand through a process of inquiry the meaning and context of the experience. McIntyre contrasts the two perspectives pointing out that unlike the TAFE study no specific research techniques were used in this study. He leads into the next case study by making it clear that the nature of this study is purely interpretative, not participatory research where people work together with an aim of discovering information that could change their situation.

In the third case study McIntyre shows how interpretative research, such as anecdotal evidence, can be challenged by demands to justify the value of community educational offerings to funding bodies. A report by Kimberley for the ACE used both case studies and surveys in an attempt to persuade the funding body that value was not necessarily measured in specific job skills alone. McIntyre also raises the issue of negotiation and the reality that issues such as who is affected by the research are not always openly acknowledged. He also highlights that while case studies, unlike empiric research, allow the human voice to be heard, the spread of corporatisation is devaluing such evidence. Behavioural scientists label case study evidence as inadequate due to lack of quantification. The corporate state demands more controlled and sophisticated analysis of outcomes allowing simplistic generalisations rather than focusing on the actual complexities faced by adult learners.

In the final case study McIntyre moves from the public domain to consider informal practitioner inquiry. This perspective focuses on ways to change or learn about the workplace as part of the job as opposed to the outcome of publishing research. McIntyre likens it to participatory action research where the focus is on examining real-life issues where data is collected, examined and reflected upon by participants with a view to the potential for change. In the example given, the action research by a manager allowed employees to better deal with the restructuring and organisational change.

McIntyre concludes by reiterating that although empiric-analysis will be demanded as hard evidence and interpretative research will continue to call for a focus on the subjective meanings behind adult education, the challenge for the researcher is to develop better ways or new models to study and understand how the learner and institution interact taking into account the limitations that arise from existing perspectives. Research needs to move in a direction where context is relevant, important, and analysed for the complexities that are encountered in adult education.

Throughout the article McIntyre has a number of key concerns. Firstly he wishes to ensure that he reflects the diversity that exists in educational research as a byproduct of the nature of the field of education. He does this by examining a number of research traditions and further illustrating them through his analysis of the four case studies presented.

McIntyre’s own beliefs and assumptions are clearly evident in the manner of his description of empirical research. The images he conjures with phrases such as ‘white coats and laboratory rats’ and ‘the straightjacket of the natural science model’ (McIntyre 1995) make it clear that he views the scientific approach as sterile, inhuman and largely inappropriate for educational research. He is quick to point out the criticisms of this research perspective, and while presenting these criticisms using Usher & Bryant and Reason & Rowan as his authorities, it is clear that he agrees whole-heartedly with the reasoning presented.

McIntyre’s second key concern is to challenge researchers to examine their research practice and in particular the role of the paradigms shaping their assumptions about knowledge, learning and education. He is at pains to express that although alternative frames of reference for inquiry exist, confusion will result unless the assumptions that underlie the approach to the research are made explicit.

The unspoken implication is that many researchers are not actively questioning or examining their beliefs about their practice. McIntyre works from the assumption that there is a definite need for researchers to take a more reflexive approach to the process of inquiry. He is keen to educate practitioners about the concept of their paradigm and its importance in the construction of their research methodologies. To McIntyre, inquiry into the process of inquiry is a worthy pursuit. He has a belief that contemplation within the educational field on the diversity of research traditions that exist will encourage researchers to move away from the idea of research as an absolute and instead embrace the notion of research defined in part by context.

This is McIntyre’s third key concept. He believes there is a need to see research in relation to practice, as he believes research takes place in context and it is this context which in part determines the form of the research. The assumption is that many researchers are unaware of this link between context and research form and that research which does not take context into account, and make it visible, is less valuable than research that does. McIntyre’s belief system makes a judgment as to the value of this recognition and in his view adult education is distinctive because of this diversity of context.

McIntyre indicates in his conclusion that he believes that there does not yet exist a frame of reference that can manage the complexities of adult education. Existing perspectives are inadequate. The assumption underlying his article is that existing models are flawed and it is from this basis that he frames his argument for the need for new models for adult education. Although he touches briefly on the critical science perspective and action oriented participatory research, McIntyre is mainly concerned with the empirical and interpretative perspectives, and his criticisms of these implies that his own perspective is definitely that of a post-positivist and perhaps tending slightly towards the post-structural camp.

The fourth and final of McIntyre’s key concerns is with the tensions that occur when the idea of research is broadened to include inquiry types other than just the scientific approach. He strongly believes that adult education research has been influenced by the research carried out in schools, and is firm in his stance that there is greater diversity and informal learning taking place in adult education that is worthy of investigation. His view of the world of educational research is coloured by the tension he perceives as existing between the older institutional perspective of adult education and the newer learner perspective.

McIntyre also believes that restructuring and policy decision-making pressures have had a possible effect on the way research is undertaken. The implication is that researchers may not be aware of the extent to which their research is affected by these agendas and he encourages a more questioning attitude and approach.

McIntyre’s perspective is interesting when applied to a research problem such as determining how to identify distinct learning styles, an area of research I am interested in.

If an empiric approach was followed, the researcher would have particular learning styles in mind, would define the problem as how to identify learning styles, would then construct a hypothesis as to a method of establishing a particular learning style, then test this hypothesis on a number of subjects probably through the medium of surveys and questionnaires.

Looking at the research inquiry from the perspective McIntyre promotes, this then would seem to be a particularly simplistic approach to a complex human problem. Using McIntyre’s framework, the researcher would need to take a much deeper look at how the inquiry is to be framed and the assumptions underlying their approach.

Some questions that would need to be considered. What actually is a learning style? How do you define it? In what context? Can it be defined? Do the words learning style mean the same thing to different people? Are there a number of different learning styles? Do they interact and combine? Is it possible to identify learning styles? What setting will the research take place in and for what purpose? Is there an agenda or outcome behind the desire to identify distinct learning styles? What are the researchers’ beliefs and paradigms around such a concept? What assumptions are being made about the way in which research in learning styles would be carried out? Are there cultural, sociological or ethnographical implications for learning styles? What assumptions can be unpacked behind the framing of the problem? Given the context to be examined, what form should the research take? Does the research involve collaboration or negotiation with those being studied? How is information to be collected and how are conclusions to be drawn?

The strength of McIntyre’s approach as a foundation for researching such a controversial topic such as learning styles is that the researcher is guided towards an initial self-examination of the beliefs that lie beneath the way in which the question has been framed. By asking how can learning styles be identified the implication is that the researcher believes there are distinct learning styles, and obviously believes they can be clearly categorized as the issue is not if they exist but how to identify them. McIntyre’s approach has the advantage of encouraging the researcher to question hidden paradigms that are in effect directing the research process. These are fairly strong assumptions with which to begin an inquiry process.

I see the main advantage of McIntyre’s approach as encouraging the researcher to reflect to a much greater extent before blithely embarking upon a possibly poorly framed and value-laden research inquiry. In this area of research interest, I would need to first focus on the issue of defining learning styles, how they are defined by different people in different contexts, and what the ideological issues are that surround the phrase learning styles. McIntyre’s approach points to the possibility that before the inquiry of how can learning styles be identified can be addressed, a more pressing concern is whether learning styles can actually be defined.

McIntyre’s approach is pertinent as it directs the researcher’s attention to issues that researchers need to be aware of but often do not consider.

The main problem I can see with this approach is that one could become so caught up in the questions and the philosophical ideas behind the research inquiry that the research itself never takes place. McIntyre would argue that research into how and why the research inquiry should take place is as valuable and as necessary as conducting the research itself. And indeed, I think over-examining the issues around the research inquiry as opposed to under-examining is the lesser of two evils.


Reference List:

McIntyre, J 1998, ‘Research in adult education and training’, in G Foley, (ed), Understanding Adult Education and Training, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

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