Research Methods Assigment

Posted by Hugh on September 15, 2014 in Assignment, Reflection, Research Methods |

In this module we had to formulate our research question and put in a proposal for our research project for year two. Unfortunately my first proposal was lacking in some key areas however I submitted an amended version and it was passed second time around, see here for module reflection.

My submitted assignment was:


I am currently employed in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (the Department) in the Staff Training Division. Upon joining this area in July 2013 I was given the responsibility of introducing elearning into the Department. To help achieve this I was approved to do the MSc Course in applied eLearning in DIT.

From the start of the course it was evident that the introduction of elearning is more than just putting courses up on our intranet site. I will need to assess and evaluate what courses currently provided can be transformed into elearning courses. There will also be a requirement to use a Learning Management System (LMS) to manage staff interaction and record learning achieved. Moodle has been identified as the system to use, this system is already in use in other Government Departments and the literature agrees it is one of the top systems stating Moodle has constantly maintained its top spot among the LMS tools (Saxena, 2013)

In my research project I will design, develop and deploy an elearning module that will help new employees to the Department familiarise themselves with the organisation and its goals. An induction, or orientation, course will allow the learner to understand what the Department is about and how their role contributes to its goals and objectives. Socialisation is a significant influence on an individual’s job satisfaction and training is a formal mode of socialisation (Natarajan & Nagar, 2011).

In this paper I will detail why I am looking at this topic and the aim of my research. I will discuss how my research will be qualitative in nature. The methodology I will use is a phenomenological case study approach using an interpretative non-positive social constructionist model.  The methods I will use will be a survey and focus groups. I will also discuss ethical considerations and I am committed to applying for ethical approval from the DIT ethics committee. I have given some delimitations that I have set myself for this project due to time restrictions and given a rough time scale for my project.

The research question I have set for my project is:

Can Moodle be used to help support new entrants into a Central Government Department?

Context and rationale for research

As we are nearing (hopefully) the end of the financial downturn value for money is still paramount in the public sector. New staff entering the Department are provided with an induction course that informs them what the Department is about, its responsibilities and how it operates. However, as there has been a recruitment embargo for several years there has not been the opportunity to run such a course. Staff have transferred into this Department from others but due to the lack of numbers an induction course has not been feasible. The artefact I will develop for this project will support such staff until they are able to attend an induction course. The module will be deployed and managed through Moodle.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has used Moodle to manage its elearning for a number of years. Other Departments, Revenue Commissioners – Social Protections – Defence, also use Moodle. To ensure consistency and to enable sharing of courses I was informed that Moodle would be the LMS of choice for my Department.

Aim of the research & research objectives

The aim of the research is to assess if Moodle can support new entrants into the Department through the design, development and deployment of an elearning module for these staff members. This module will give new entrants key information about the Department until they are able to complete the full one day induction course. Natarajan & Nagar (2011) state that early induction can increase job satisfaction of new entrants.

Literature review

Ontology, epistemology, methodology and phenomenology were all subjects that I had to review the literature in respect of this module. In this regard I found Grix (2002) article was very informative and a very good starting point. All new entrants to the Department will be adults. However, a major problem is the definition of an adult learner, with Holmes & Abington-Cooper (2000) concluding that there is no agreement in the literature as to what constitutes an adult learner. They state age is a characteristic and not an identifier and other characteristics have to be used. Pappas (2013) states adults are characterised by maturity, self-confidence, autonomy, solid decision-making, and are generally more practical, multi-tasking, purposeful, self-directed, experienced and receptive to change. All these traits affect their motivation, as well as their ability to learn. Whitby (2013) in describing his experiences as a retired educator states that ‘relevance’ is important so the artefact design will need to have relevance.

Malcolm Knowles, an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy, from the latin andr meaning man and agogos meaning leading (Smith, 2010), as “the art and science of helping adults learn” (Knowles et al., 2005:P61). My design will have to be andragogical in nature so the new entrant will see the value in it.

New comers need to learn what to do and how to do it and are eager to learn. However, other individuals cannot be relied upon to be consistent (Korte 2010).  Socialisation of the learner into the organisation is important for the learner (Natarajan & Nagar, 2011; Beattie, 2006) and the managers of the learners play an important role (Korte, 2010). The literature agrees that early induction leads to greater job satisfaction and increases productivity (Natarajan & Nagar, 2011; Korte, 2010). A formal induction process can help the new comers socialisation into the organisation and if done effectively and efficiently should increase the productivity of the employee. Identifying what new comer should know will aid in the design of the elearning module.

During the design of the module I will need to ensure the correct amount of information is presented to the participants at any given time. Cognitivism involves encoding knowledge to long-term memory to provide a deep rather than surface form of learning. Sweller’s (1998) Cognitive Load Theory argues that learners will be more effective in retaining information in long term memory for recall when required, so as not to overload the working (short-term) memory. He presented three types of cognitive load: intrinsic cognitive load deals with the inherent level of difficulty associated with a specific instructional topic; germane cognitive load deals with the processing, construction and automation of schemas; extraneous cognitive load deals with the manner in which information is presented to learners. Designers need to decrease extraneous cognitive load during learning, and refocus learner’s attention toward germane materials.

On course design I will need to identify what characteristics of a course would make it suitable for elearning. During the Instructional Design and eAuthoring module I came across a series of ebooks by Michael Allen (Allen website) which will assist in this.

Through the literature review I am confident that Moodle can meet all the Departments needs in respect of managing the elearning module that will be developed.

Research Design

Theoretical Perspective

My epistemological stance for this research will be a constructionist one and my theoretical perspective an interpretive one. I will use an interpretative non-positive social constructionist model as this will allow me to examine the how & why (Silverman, 2013) (Denscombe, 2010) the Department operate and what new staff need to be aware of.


The methodology I will use for this research is a qualitative one that I will present as a case study. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behaviour and the reasons that govern such behaviour in various natural social settings in groups or as individuals (Flick, 2007) and give understanding of perceptions and how people give meaning to their lives (Berg & Lune, 2014).

Case Study research focuses on a particular phenomenon with a view to providing an in-depth account of experiences (Denscombe, 2010; Cohen et al., 2011) which allows researchers to describe events based on participants experience (Creswell, 2009). Yin (2009) states they can allow multiple levels of analysis within a single study. Phenomenological research is an umbrella term used when there is no reliance on statistics or other scientific measurement. It looks at people’s perceptions, attitudes and feelings (Denscombe, 2010).

In my research I believe that there will be multiple realities, i.e. managers & new staff, and will rely on individuals description of experiences and feelings to tell an interesting story  (Silverman, 2013; Denscombe, 2010). I believe this is the correct methodology as I will be examining real life training from multiple perspectives. I believe this will be an intrinsic case study as I will be trying to identify an instance that a new work practice (Bell, 2010), i.e. elearning and Moodle, will be of benefit to the Department.


The methods I will employ for the research are an online survey and focus groups. There will be two pre focus groups to identify what is to be included in the elearning module and one post focus group to provide feedback on the module after completing it. I will look for patterns and triangulation between managers and new entrants to see if there are any correlations. Qualitative researchers look for patterns, be this within a particular case study or interview or across a sample (Cousins, 2009). Silverman (2010) states data gathered using multiple methods is richer.


The work of the Department is very diverse with Administrative, Veterinary, Inspectorate and Laboratory staff. I will survey approximately 20 line managers across the Department, five from each of the areas mentioned, to see what they would like new entrants to their area to know. Surveys give a snapshot of people’s thinking at a given point in time and collecting factual information relating to groups of people (Denscombe, 2010). I have chosen to survey a sub-group of the Departments Staff which are line managers; this represents a sample of the population (Denscombe, 2010). Bryman and Bell (2007) state that a researcher can achieve a higher response rate with online surveys. The questionnaire will have open questions and some based on the likert scale, where respondents are asked to indicate how strongly they agree or disagree (Rowley 2014).  Denscombe (2010) states one advantage of online questionnaires is that there are no transcription errors.

Focus Groups

I will hold two pre focus groups; 1) those that have joined the Department within the last year to identify what they felt new entrant should know and 2) managers from areas such as Human Resources and Training to identify what they would like new entrant to know. A post course focus group of participants, that have completed the elearning module, will be reconvened. Focus groups can be useful in gauging the extent to which there is a shared view amongst a small group of people (Denscombe, 2010). Cousins (2009) agree focus groups can be enriched by the group dynamic. Berg (2004) states that data emerging from focus groups is socially constructed.

Information gained from the survey and pre course focus groups will allow the development the elearning module. Then new entrants from the focus group will be invited to take the elearning course. Through evaluation of the module, using evaluation sheets by participants, data will be gathered on how relevant the new entrant found the course. The participants will then be asked to reconvene for a post course focus group to provide feedback on the module. From these evaluations and feedback I will be able to conclude whether or not Moodle can support new entrants into the Department.

Ethical considerations

The key principles to research (Bell 2010; Denscombe, 2010; Flick, 2007) are:

  • Respect for the person
  • Beneficence
  • Justice

Respect for the person includes inf­­­­ormed consent, no deception, individuals privacy respected and accurate reporting of findings. Beneficence means that the research should do good and consider the wellbeing for the participant. Justice looks at the balance between the benefits and burdens to the participant and the benefits should outweigh any burdens.

For my research I will include a cover page on the survey detailing what it is about and what I am looking to cover in the questionnaire. By doing the survey after reviewing this information the participant will be opting in to the study. For the focus groups I will devise a consent form based on Denscombe (2010:P333) template which they and I will sign and copies will be kept by both parties. I will need to gain permission from the Training Manager, the Head of Human Resources and Information Technology area to undertake this research in the Department. Both the Training manager and Head of Human Resources would be considered gate keepers to the Department.

I will apply for ethical approval from the DIT Ethics Committee to ensure I am in line with ethical consideration in case it is looked for at a later date, i.e. for publishing.

Delimitations and outline of timescales/research plan

As Moodle is used in other Government Departments, and recommended by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, I will not look at different LMS’s and the different benefits offered by them. There is a clear bias towards Moodle that I must highlight.

The time scale for the project is approximately eight months, September 2014 – April 2015. I will to have the required access and questions designed prior to September 2014. The research plan will be as follows:

July 2014 – prepare questionnaire, focus group questions and applied for site access

September 2014 – ask some of the MSc cohort to review these questions giving peer feedback and prepare ethics approval form

send email to managers requesting them to complete online survey and apply for ethical approval

Identify those who could take part in focus groups and invite them to participant by email

October 2014 – review response to survey, follow up if low response rate

November 2014 – Hold pre focus groups

After identifying what is required devise and develop an elearning object for induction training.

December 2014 – deploy the elearning object using Moodle. Part of the course will be an evaluation of learning as well as the overall course.

January 2015 – Hold post focus group to analyse the object and get feedback from group to see if it met the needs of the new entrants.

February 2015 – Analyse results based on evaluations and post focus group feedback

March/April 2015 – start drafting the research paper

May 2015 – submit a draft to supervisor for feedback making all necessary changes

June 2015 – final submission

This is an indicative plan I have no doubt it will need to be tweaked as the project continues and I am appointed a supervisor.



In summary I am currently employed in a central Government Department in the Staff Training Division. One of my responsibilities is to introduce elearning into the Department including the use of a Learning Management System (LMS) to manage staff interaction with training and record learning achieved. Moodle has been identified as the system to use, this system is already in use in other Government Departments and the literature states it is one of the top systems.  In my research project I will be looking at how Moodle can be used to support new staff with the deployment of a specially developed elearning object on Induction for New Staff.

In this paper I have detailed my research question, why I am looking at this topic and the aim of my research. I have discussed how my research will be qualitative in nature. The methodology I will use is a phenomenological case study approach using an interpretive constructive model. The methods I will use will be a questionnaire and focus groups. I have also discussed ethical considerations and I have committed to applying for ethical approval. I have given some delimitations that I have set myself for this project due to time restrictions and given a rough time scale for my project.




Allen M website http://www.alleninteractions.com/resources/michael-allen-s-books, accessed multiple times

Beattie, R. S. (2006). Line managers and workplace learning: Learning from the voluntary sector. Human Resource Development International, 9(1), 99-119.

Bell J., (2010), Doing your research project: a guide for first-time researchers in education, health and social science, Open University Press, Maidenhead.

Berg, B. (2004). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (5th ed.) Boston: Pearson.

Berg B.L., and Lune H., (2014), Qualitative research methods for the social 8th Edition, Pearsons, London

Bryman A., and Bell E. (2007), Business Research Methods 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Cousin, G. (2009). Researching Higher Education: An Introduction to Contemporary Methods and Approaches. New York: Routledge.

Cohen L., Manion L., & Morrison K., (2011), Research Methods in Education (7th ed.), Routledge, Falmer

Creswell, J., (2009), Research Design: Qualitative and Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. London, Sage

Denscombe M., (2010), Title The good research guide: for small-scale social research projects 4th Edition, Maidenhead, Open University Press, 2010.

Flick U., (2007), Designing qualitative research, SAGE, London.

Grix J. (2002), Introducing Students to the Generic Terminology of Social Research, Politics 22-3 P. 175-186, Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Holmes G. and Abington-Cooper M. (2000), Pedagogy vs. Andragogy: A False Dichotomy, The Journal of Technological Studies, Volume 26, Number 2, http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JOTS/Summer-Fall-2000/holmes.html, Retrieved 18 Dec 2013

Knowles, M., Holton, E.F., & Swanson, R.A. (2005). The Adult Learner. (Sixth Edition), Oxford: Elsivere..

Korte, R. (2010). ‘First, get to know them’: a relational view of organizational socialization. Human Resource Development International, 13(1), 27-43.

Natarajan , N. K., & Nagar, D. (2011). Induction Age, Training Duration & Job Performance on. Indian Journal Of Industrial Relations, 46(3), 491-497.

Pappas, C. (2013), 8 Important Characteristics of Adult Learners, Published in Concepts Wednesday, 08 May 2013, http://elearningindustry.com/8-important-characteristics-of-adult-learners, retrieved 19 December 2013.

Rowley, J. (2014). Designing and using research questionnaires, Management Research Review, 37(3), 308-330

Saxena S., (2013), Why is Moodle the Best LMS?, Ed Tech Review website http://edtechreview.in/news/742-moodle-the-best-lms, published 06 November 2013, accessed 21 May 2014

Silverman D., (2013), Doing Qualitative Research: A Practical Handbook – 4th Edition, Sage, London.

Silverman D., (2010), Doing Qualitative Research: A Practical Handbook – 3rd Edition, Sage, London.

Smith M. K. (2010), ‘Andragogy’, the encyclopaedia of informal Education, http://infed.org/mobi/andragogy-what-is-it-and-does-it-help-thinking-about-adult-learning, Retrieved 18 December 2013

Sweller, J.,  Van Merrienboer J.J.V., & Paas F.G.W.C. (1998). Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design. Educational Psychology Review, 10 (3).

Whitby T. (2013) Pedagogy vs. Andragogy. Retrieved October 22, 2013 from http://networkedblogs.com/KTGoI

Yin R.K. (2009), Case Study Research: Design and Methods – Fourth Edition, SAGE Publications. California.




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