Why am I doing research?

I have just finished reading Dawn Darlaston-Jones’ excellent reading Making connections: the relationship between epistemology and research methods. Not only has Dawn provided me with a clear understanding of why I should be investigating a research question but also how this clearly connects with our world view as human beings.

I have struggled to come up with a research question that I was happy with as I had not connected it to my view of reality. As Dawn suggests by asking why we are investigating a particular issue, we can get to core of what we believe and how the world works. The why will show my view of reality and whether I assume that others have the same view that we cannot necessarily perceive (realism) or that there are multiple realities that are contextual and socially constructed (relativism). Reading Dawn’s article made me recognise that I am now closer to researching a question that I am truly interested in as it fits in with my view of the world.

Why I am doing the research?

To progress successfully a real passion for the subject is required, a way of truly understanding a gap in your understanding of the world that you hope to understand by doing the research. My specialisation in the Masters of Education is Online and Distributed Learning and this is also my full-time job as an Online Educational Designer. My own interest in this area was sparked by not having studied myself for over 10 years when I started on this fully online external degree. I quickly recognised that it was only my persistence and determination through a huge effort that enabled me to succeed and not the way the course was delivered. I was disappointed by the lack of teaching and engagement from other students. Essentially, I was learning on my own using some curated content.

Even though I have been successful, I only recently recognised that I have been studying very inefficiently using inadequate learning strategies that meant that I spent huge amounts of time and effort without very good learning outcome. This was a factor I was not aware of that might contribute to the high attrition rate and stress of online study and adds to other factors such as a sense of isolation online students feel, lack of time and support. I noticed in myself as well as others that my study skills, learning strategies were ill informed. I did not know how to effectively study independently. I was spending large amount of time on study to the detriment of my family and social life. The fact that I did well, I cannot attribute to the ‘teaching’ of the online courses but rather to my doggedness. Working in a university myself I know that there is a greater push for students to study independently and online. The students who choose to study online often do so because they are already in full-time employment and may wish to advance or change their career.

I thus want to focus my research on successful online learning and before reading Dawn’s article had been looking for a paradigm that has an ontology and methodology that would fit. Instead I should have been going the other way around – understanding why I am doing the research, why I have asked a particular question which then informs the epistemology – how I will know what I know – which then informs the methodology. This is where Jonathan Grix’s article on social science terminology was particularly useful in understanding the relationship between all the elements and that we must start at the top with ontology. For me, what is my view of reality regarding online learning = why am I doing this research?

With all this in mind I now think I am closer to investigating a topic I am truly interested. From this and Dawn’s own research question I now pose a very similar question:

Why are some students successful at online learning while others are not?


Darlaston-Jones, D. (2007). Making connections: The relationship between epistemology and research methods. Special Edition Papers19(1), 19-27.

Grix, J. (2002). Introducing students to the generic terminology of social research. Politics22(3), 175-186.

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