Research paradigms in medical education research


Suzanne Bunniss, NHS Education for Scotland, 2 Central Quay, 89 Hydepark Street, Glasgow G60 5JP, UK. Tel: 00 44 7766 056816; Fax: 00 44 141 223 1480; E-mail:


Medical Education 2010: 44: 358–366

Context  The growing popularity of less familiar methodologies in medical education research, and the use of related data collection methods, has made it timely to revisit some basic assumptions regarding knowledge and evidence.

Methods  This paper outlines four major research paradigms and examines the methodological questions that underpin the development of knowledge through medical education research.

Discussion  This paper explores the rationale behind different research designs, and shows how the underlying research philosophy of a study can directly influence what is captured and reported. It also explores the interpretivist perspective in some depth to show how less familiar paradigm perspectives can provide useful insights to the complex questions generated by modern healthcare practice.

Conclusions  This paper concludes that the quality of research is defined by the integrity and transparency of the research philosophy and methods, rather than the superiority of any one paradigm. By demonstrating that different methodological approaches deliberately include and exclude different types of data, this paper highlights how competing knowledge philosophies have practical implications for the findings of a study.