research is a research method that holds much promise for generating
the kind of knowledge that is most useful to educators-guidelines
for practice, which help us decide how best to accomplish our goals,
as opposed to descriptive knowledge, which helps us understand "what
is." Formative research is a kind of developmental research
or action research that is intended to improve guidance for educational
Formative evaluation (sometimes called field testing or usability
testing) is a methodology for improving educational practices. It
entails asking such questions as "What is working?", "What
needs to be improved?", and "How can it be improved?".
Using it as the basis for developmental or "action" research
for improving guidelines for educational practices is a natural
evolution from its use to improve particular educational practices.
Educational practices include such diverse areas as teaching, curriculum
development, counseling, administration, finance, and governance.
The underlying logic of formative research is that, if you create
an accurate application of guidelines, then any weaknesses that
are found in the application may reflect weaknesses in the guidelines,
and any improvements identified for the application may reflect
ways to improve the guidelines, at least for some subset of the
situations for which the guidelines were intended. There are notable
similarities to the logic of experimental design, in which one creates
an instance of each parameter of an independent variable, one collects
data on the instances, and one generalizes back to the independent-variable
concepts. Replication with diverse students, content, and settings
is necessary in both cases. However, for formative research the
guiding questions are, "What methods worked well?" "What
did not work well?" and "What improvements can be made
to the theory?"
In the formative research methodology, an instance (or application)
of some guidelines is created or identified. The design instance
is based as exclusively as possible on the guidelines. For example,
a course might be developed based solely on a set of instructional
guidelines, using as little intuition as possible. The application
(the course in this case) is then formatively evaluated using one-to-one,
small-group, and/or field-trial formative evaluation techniques.
The data are analyzed for ways to improve the course, and generalizations
are hypothesized for improving the set of guidelines.
For more information about the formative research methodology, see:
C.M., & Frick, T.W. (1999). Formative research: A methodology
for improving design theories. In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.),
Instructional-Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of
Instructional Theory. (Volume II). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
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