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Grounded Theory Design: Definition, Advantages & Disadvantages Video

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  • 0:05 Qualitative Research
  • 1:31 Grounded Theory
  • 2:58 Strengths & Limitations
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Everyone knows that a scientist has to develop a hypothesis before gathering data. But what if a scientist does it the other way around? In this lesson, we'll examine what grounded theory is and its strengths and weaknesses.

Qualitative Research

Heather is a psychologist who is interested in how video games and academics intersect. She's noticed that when kids play some types of video games a lot, they do better in school, but when they play other types of video games a lot, they do worse in school. She wonders why some video games seem to make students smarter and others seem to make them less smart.

Heather decides to do research into what elements of video games make kids smarter. The first step in research is to decide what type of research to do. One of the major types of research is qualitative research, which involves studying non-numerical data for answers to research questions.

So, maybe Heather decides that she wants to examine the games that seem to make kids better in school. She'll play with them, make notes, and see if she notices patterns in them. She'll also examine the other video games, the ones that lead to bad grades, to see what's different between them and the 'good grade' video games.

Since Heather's study involves examining video games, she won't end up with numerical data at the end of the study. Instead, she'll have a pile of notes that she took about each video game, which she'll have to interpret. This is the essence of qualitative research - she's looking at non-numerical data and interpreting what it means. Let's look closer at one type of qualitative research, grounded theory, and its strengths and limitations.

Grounded Theory

Okay, so Heather wants to examine the video games to see why some seem to make kids smarter and others don't. She knows that she's going to do qualitative research. But what's the next step?

If you're like most people and have spent many years learning the scientific method, you'll say that she has to develop a hypothesis, or guess, about what elements might make video games lead to better grades. For most studies, that's exactly what happens. But Heather doesn't have any idea what's causing the success of some gamers. She can't even begin to guess what elements those video games have that others don't. So, she decides to do something different. She decides to gather the data first without a hypothesis and then analyze it to come up with a theory about what makes the video games good.

Grounded theory is a research method that involves forming a theory based on the gathered data as opposed to gathering data after forming a theory. In other words, it kind of turns the whole research process around. Grounded theory is called 'grounded' because the theory is grounded in the data.

Imagine that you have a handful of seeds, and you don't know what type of plant they will sprout. So, you plant them and water them and watch over them. Eventually, when they sprout up and bloom, you'll know what they are, but you can't tell just by looking at the seeds. Grounded theory is like that. The data is the seeds, while the theory is the plant that eventually shows itself.

Strengths & Limitations

There are many strengths to grounded theory. For one thing, researcher bias is less likely to affect the outcome of a grounded theory study. Sometimes, researchers can unintentionally change the outcome of an experiment because they already have a hypothesis, and they try to fit the data to that.

For example, imagine that Heather believed that the 'good' video games were less violent than the 'bad' ones. As she analyzed the games, she might overlook instances of violence in a 'good' video game and pay attention to instances of violence in a 'bad' one. This is an example of researcher bias. But if Heather doesn't have a theory in the beginning, it's not very likely that the results will be affected by bias.

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