Webster Dictionary defines paradigm as "an example or pattern: small, self-contained, simplified examples that we use to illustrate procedures, processes, and theoretical points." The most quoted definition of paradigm is Thomas Kuhn's (1962, 1970) concept in The Nature of Science Revolution, i.e. paradigm as the underlying assumptions and intellectual structure upon which research and development in a field of inquiry is based. The other definitions in the research literature include:

  1. Patton (1990): A paradigm is a world view, a general perspective, a way of breaking down the complexity of the real world.
  2. Paradigm is an interpretative framework, which is guided by "a set of beliefs and feelings about the world and how it should be understood and studied." (Guba, 1990). Denzin and Lincoln (2001) listed three categories of those beliefs:

When challenging the assumptions underlying positivism, Lincoln and Guba (2000) also identified two more categories that will distinguish different paradigms, i.e. beliefs in causality and oxiology. The assumptions of causality asserts the position of the nature and possibility of causal relationship; oxiology deals with the issues about value. Specific assumptions about research include the role of value in research, how to avoid value from influencing research, and how best to use research products (Baptiste, 2000).

Dill and Romiszowski (1997) stated the functions of paradigms as follows:

Two major philosophical doctrines in the social science inquiry are positivism and postpositivism. The following is a contrast of the research approach that are entailed from these two different philosophical paradigms.

 
Positivism
Postpostivism
Philosophical Inquiry
  • The physical and social reality is independent of those who observe it
  • Observation of this reality, if unbiased, constitutes scientific knowledge.
  • Behavioral researchers in education and psychology exemplify an approach to scientific inquiry that is grounded in positivist epistemology.
  • Social reality is constructed by the individuals who participate it.
  • It is constructed differently by different individuals.
  • This view of social reality is consistent with the constructivist movement in cognitive psychology, which posts that individuals gradually build their own understandings of the world through experience and maturation.
  • The mind is not tabula rasa (blank slate) upon which knowledge is written.
Research Design
  • The inquiry focuses on the determination of the general trends of a defined populations.
  • The features of the social environment retain a high degree of constancy across time and space.
  • Local variations are considered "noise"· Study of samples and population
  • Generalization: first defining the population of interest, select a representative of the population, the researcher generalizes the findings obtained from studying the sample to the larger population using the statistical techniques to determine the likelihood that sample findings are likely to apply to the population.
  • The scientific inquiry must focus on the study of multiple social realities, i.e. the different realities created by different individuals as they interact in a social environment.
  • Find a ways to get individuals to reveal their constructions of social realities, including the person being studied and the researcher.
  • Reflexivity: focus on the researcher's self as an integral constructor of the social reality being studied
  • The study of individuals' interpretations of social reality must occur at the local, immediate level.
  • Study of cases: have you learned something about his case that informs us about another cases? Generalization of case study findings must be made on a case-by-case basis. In other words, it is the reader who made the generalization based on his or her own interpretation: The focus is on the transferability instead of generalization.
Data Collection and Design
  • The use of mathematics to represent and analyze features of social reality is consistent with positivist epistemology: a particular feature can be isolated and conceptualized as a variable.
  • The variables can be expressed as a numerical scales.
  • Deductive analysis: identify underlying themes and patterns prior to data collection and searching through the data for instances of them: hypothesis testing
  • Focuses on the study of individual cases and by making "thick" verbal descriptions of what they observe.
  • Analytic induction: search through data bit by bit and then infers that certain events or statements are instances of the same underlying themes or patterns
View of causality
  • A mechanistic causality among social objects
  • Individuals' interpretation of situations cause them to take certain actions

 

Lincoln and Guba (2000) made the following distinctions between positivist and naturalist inquiries.

Positivist
Naturalist
Reality is single, tangible, and fragmentable. Realities are multiple, constructed, and holistic.
Dualism: the knower and the known are independent. The knower and the known are interactive and inseparable.
Time and context free generalization Only time-and context-bound working hypotheses are possible.
Real causes, temporally precedent to or simultaneous with their effects (causal relationship) All entities are in a state of mutual simultaneous shaping, so that it is impossible to distinguish causes from effects.
Inquiry is value free. Inquiry is value bounded.


References:

Baptiste, I. (2000). Calibrating the "instrument": Philosophical issues framing the researcher's role. Class notes in ADTED 550.

Dills, C. R., & Romiszowski, A. J. (1997). The instructional development paradigm: An introduction. In C. R. Dills, and A. J. Romiszowski (Eds)., Instructional development paradigms. Englewood, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, Inc.

Gall, M. D., Borg, W. R., & Gall, J. P. (1996). Educational Research: An Introduction ( 6th ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E., G. (2000). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions and emerging confluences. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research (2nd ed., pp. 163-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods ( 2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Smith, P., & Ragan, T. J. (1999). Instructional Design. 2nd ed. John, Wiley & Sons, Inc.