Research Methods – Pros and Cons

16 July 2015
Comments: 0
16 July 2015, Comments: 0

Different methods to use for pre-training research

Here is a quick reminder of the pros and cons of the different data collection methods you might consider using when carrying out initial pre-training research.

For more details see our chapter on Practical Research on page 49 in the book.


Surveys (online or other)

  • An inexpensive, quick and easy method of gathering data from a large audience
  • Brings consistency to the data gathered and is especially useful for collecting quantitative data to get a representative picture over a large group of respondents
  • Questions can be either open for subjective views, closed for quantitative data or multiple choices
  • Questions require careful thought and it can be difficult to collect qualitative data.

Focus groups

Focus groups allow you to see body language, voice and tone

  • A good method for gathering qualitative data
  • Can be very beneficial as you are able to see the whole communication- body language, voice and tone
  •  Possible to surface points that may be relevant but were not covered in the research questions as you can choose to explore particular areas in more detail
  • Difficult to conduct a  large-scale research using this method
  • Results can be inhibited as some are less eager to share and others may dominate the discussion.

Face-to-face interview

  • Especially good for gathering qualitative data
  • Can send questions to a respondent in advance so that they are able to reflect
  • The interview can be delivered in many different ways – informal and conversational with no predetermined questions; it may have a strict structure; it may be standardised with open questions.
  • A face-to-face interview is effective for gathering qualitative data and the one-to-one format encourages an open and honest response to questions
  • A very time consuming method
  • More general interviews make it difficult to compare responses
  • It is easy to get side-tracked and gather data less important to you research.

Critical incident analysis

Critical incident analysis focuses on recent events

  • Gives respondents the opportunity to tell stories of previous ‘critical incidents’ to articulate details that can then be explored further by the interviewer
  • A particularly flexible method that does not restrict the respondent to respond to a specific framework
  • Helps determine issues in the current or previous way of working
  • Focuses on recent event and relies upon the respondents memory so does not paint a very objective picture
  • Time consuming.

Observation of work

  • Provides both quantitative and qualitative data.
  • Can be by direct observation or through the use of technology to report on work activities: telephone calls, mystery shoppers, videos
  • Accurate and objective data on what is currently happening which can build a picture of the training needs
  • Can be time and resource intensive
  • Does not surface participant’s views only their performance.


woman using laptop and working

  • Can be used individually or combined within an assessment exercise
  • Scenarios can be used to incorporate role play, videos and actors to help identify how they would respond
  • Texts and questions help identify existing knowledge and gaps
  • Case studies identify and test critical thinking
  • Psychometrics allow you to measure the knowledge, abilities and attitudes which help you identify strengths, gaps and areas for development.
  • Assessments can be constructed to meet specific needs
  • A consistent form of assessment can monitor progress
  • Requires careful construction to ensure that you are testing and measuring the correct things.

NLP modelling

NLP modelling involves studying examplars

  • Recreating excellence by identifying the behaviour patterns, language, strategies and beliefs of exemplars to build a model which can be taught to other
  • Observation and questioning of exemplars to make conscious the subtleties of what they do that makes them successful
  • Exemplars are not often aware of what makes them good in a particular area
  • Questioning what they are thinking about when they carry out a task or skill and noticing their use of verbal and body language can be more relevant than simply focusing on training more general skill
  • Helps to identify very specific nuances that makes a difference for exemplars and brings the organisational context into learning
  • Requires expertise by the individual conducting the modelling

Which method do you prefer?

  • Findings will need to be based on the modelling of a limited number of people.

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