Empirical educational research enjoys a methodological and theoretical debate that is characterized by a number of unresolved and lively debated controversies. This compilation thesis is an attempt to contribute to this debate using the toolbox of philosophy of science.
The thesis consists of an introductory chapter and four essays. In the introductory chapter I identify three methodological and theoretical controversies that are discussed within the field of educational research. These are: 1) the controversy concerning the scientific status of educational research; 2) the controversy between cognitive and sociocultural theories of learning; and, 3) the controversy between realist and constructionist interpretations of theories of learning.
I provide in the essays a critical assessment of the claims behind each of these controversies, and argue for an alternative reconstruction of these issues.
In Essay I, I criticize a view about the interpretation of human action, labeled in the text as interpretivism. This view posits a sharp separation between the natural and social sciences, to the effect that the methods of the latter cannot be applied to the former. The first controversy seems to rest on this position. As I argue, the arguments in support of interpretivism are contradicted by actual research practice. I conclude that the interpretivistic claims lack support and that the general separation claim appears as problematic.
A further debate has fueled the first controversy, that is, the supposed distinction between qualitative and quantitative methods. In Essay II, I argue against this distinction. More specifically, I discuss the concept of empirical support in the context of qualitative methods (for short, qualitative support). I provide arguments that although there are two specific and non-trivial properties of qualitative support, there is no methodological separation between quantitative and qualitative methods concerning empirical support.
Considered together, the first two essays indicate two points of methodological continuity between educational research and other scientific practices (such as the natural sciences). I therefore conclude that the controversy concerning the scientific status of educational research rests in large part on unjustified claims.
Essay III focuses on the second controversy. In this article I argue that Suárez’ inferential approach to the concept of scientific representation can be used as an account of scientific representation in learning, regardless of whether learning is understood as a cognitive or social phenomenon.
The third controversy is discussed in Essay IV. Here, I discuss some ontological aspects of the framework of the actor-network theory. Reflecting on the use of this framework in the research field of Networked Learning, I argue that the assumption of an ontology of relations provides the solution for two puzzles about the ontology of networks. The relevance of my argument for the third controversy is that it suggests a point of connection between constructionist and realist interpretations of the ontology of learning.
The last two essays suggest two points of continuities between theoretical frameworks that have been and still are argued to be incompatible.