Individual research studies in educational psychology, as in most of psychology, tend to rely on a single methodology. Although these methods vary from one study to the next, each study usually employs one methodology, such as administering and analyzing a survey, or conducting an experiment. Human behavior is complex and difficult to capture with a single methodology, yet researchers have generally accepted the limitations of this approach. The development of scientific knowledge is incremental, and each study adds a piece to the puzzle of our understanding of a phenomenon. After all, no single study can reveal all that we want to know about anything, but studies using a single methodology to examine a specific research question are an important part of building knowledge.
Despite this time-honored tradition, there may be a confluence of factors at this particular point in the history of educational psychology research that begs for more studies that employ a combination of research methodologies, known as mixed-methods or multi-methods research. Specifically, there are four such factors that may pave the way for such research: (1) increasing awareness among researchers of the need to understand the complex nature of human behavior within specific situations and contexts and how this complexity can create within-group and between-group differences; (2) increasing awareness among researchers of the importance of understanding differences between groups, particularly cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, in educational and psychological processes and outcomes; (3) technological advances that allow for the collection of both attitudinal and behavioral data from large samples; and (4) increasingly sophisticated statistical tools, made possible by easy access to powerful software. In this article, each of these factors will be explored in more depth.
Despite the exciting methodological time that we are in, it is important to place our discussion of the future of mixed-methods research in educational psychology within the context of previous mixed-methods research, and to acknowledge the challenges faced by those who engage in such research (Moss, 1994; Turner & Patrick, 2008). Educational psychology researchers have lamented the inability of mono-method research to truly capture the complexity of classroom life, and several have attempted to employ a combination of methods (e.g., surveys, interviews, observations, artifact analysis) to provide a more complete picture of the processes that affect outcomes like student motivation, student achievement, teacher burnout, and any other number of psychological and behavioral outcomes. Although much of this research has been enlightening, the number of such multi-method studies has been limited by several factors. These studies can be expensive, in both financial and labor terms. Because such studies can be labor-intensive, sample sizes and contexts for them can often be small or narrow, thereby limiting generalizability. In addition, most educational psychology researchers do not have expertise in multiple research methods, making it difficult for individual researchers to conduct, and subsequently publish, mixed-methods studies. These and other challenges of conducting mixed-methodology research are discussed later in this chapter.