Table 6.

Medical education research study designs (quantitative and qualitative)

TypeStudy DesignDetails
SurveysQuantitativeInexpensive, convenient. Most common tool used. Nonresponse bias, validity, and reliability of the survey tool.
Postcourse designsQuantitativeData collection after a new course or innovation; tool used is surveys. Inexpensive, straightforward, quick to conduct and analyze, and high response rates. No collection of baseline data, unable to measure long-term effect of intervention.
Before and after studiesQuantitativeSimilar to postcourse designs except before and after surveys used; easy to design and collect data; close proximity of data gives high response rates and tracking; limited in providing rigorous understanding of long-term change. No control group.
Longitudinal studiesQuantitativeEffect of intervention over time; can assess long-term effects of an intervention; good design to establish relevance in clinical practice; limited because of learners change training, jobs, and location over time; collective data long term might be burdensome.
Controlled before and after studiesQuantitativeQuasi-experimental technique; more robust then aforementioned methods; amount of time and data collection increases; loss to follow-up; long-term change is hard to assess.
Randomized controlled trialsQuantitativeSimilar to clinical trials; most robust form of data; minimal bias; gold standard, but not common in medical education because of sample size–related concerns; ethical objections regarding education intervention
Meta-analysisQuantitativeSimilar to meta-analysis or other medical reviews; increasingly used in medical education; can generate evidence synthesis; time and cost intensive.
EthnographyQualitativeUse observations of social groups in real environment and interviews to focus on meanings of actions and explanations; development of theories.
PhenomenologyQualitativeUse observations and interviews and personal documents, such as diaries, to gain insight in the experience.
Grounded theoryQualitativeUse variety of qualitative data, such as focus groups, diaries, and interviews, to get results.
Case studiesQualitativeExamine a particular situation (individuals, groups, events, roles); can get complex phenomenon data.
Action research studiesQualitativeResearchers work together with participants in cycles of action and change and guide participants in the change process; researchers help participants to develop, deliver, study, and improve practice ultimately
Mixed designsQualitative and quantitativeCan provide more detailed outcomes in medical education activities, resource intensive, and cost. Requires expertise to design.