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Friday, August 17, 2012

Experimental versus Exploratory Research

Experimental versus Exploratory Research

Exposure to the vast number of research methods easily perplexes learners anticipating their first important research project.  Attempting to extricate the seemingly irrelevant components that an inexperienced learner-researcher gains from reading numerous studies, and focusing instead upon a research method that is identified as useful for their dissertation, is difficult.  Therefore, since the target of this discussion is experimental and exploratory research methods, my objective is to only consider these two methods, which will possibly benefit my upcoming exploratory research project.  Consequently, the information that follows summarizes information from writers that has, in my opinion, contributed to important new understanding that may impact my upcoming project. 

Lelouche (2006) discussed experimental learning methods used in academia: "the learning domain is well known, the expected user is a student, and the technology…is used to guide (the student's) learning" (p. 8).  Conversely, exploratory learning methods provide an almost entirely unstructured setting, the user is represented by a researcher, and technologies provide the user with tools to explore learning scenarios that encourage discovery (Lelouche, 2006).  Lelouche (2006) posited that exploratory learning is minimally used, and encourages teachers to combine exploratory and experimental methods.  A new paradigm in research methodology?

Experimental research includes manipulating variables.  Exploratory research does not manipulate variables.  Exploratory research may point the researcher and other researchers toward more formal research.  An objective of exploratory research is to clarify indistinct dilemmas, and get a better grasp on the magnitude of dilemmas.  Exploratory research does not typically identify with action research.  Researchers undertaking exploratory research expect that further research could provide solutions (MBA Knowledge Base, 2012).

I particularly enjoy finding articles representing innovative thinking, which I believe I found in Franklin (2005).  "Exploratory experimentation—experimentation that is not guided by hypothesis (or theory…)—has a broader and more systematic role in scientific inquiry than is commonly recognized" (p. 888).  Franklin (2005) suggested that with "'wide', also known as 'high-throughput', instruments (those which allow the simultaneous measure of many features of an experimental system) for exploratory experimentation is more productive than it is otherwise" (p. 888).  Franklin (2005) shared an intriguing opinion from a 2002 writer: "in the high through-put world, we can perform thousands of experiments at once, provide millions of possible answers and then start asking questions" (p. 889).

Franklin (2005) believes it possible that "theory-directed experimentation is more efficient than exploratory experiments for those using narrow instrumentation" (p. 897).  If more efficiency is found to be true, "the efficiency of theory-directed inquiry, rather than the logic of falsification or confirmation, is the best explanation for the ubiquity of theory-directed experimentation in scientific practice" (p. 897).

Many times researchers have stated that alternative, more enterprising research methods are not conducted due to a realization that time and expense of such methods was not feasible.  However, Franklin (2005) suggests that if experimentalists had the availability of computing technologies to examine data, more learning would be possible from experiments than that by "narrow experimentalists" (p. 898).  A curiousity arises that since Franklin's (2005) piece was published seven years ago, perhaps later researchers have written and supported Franklin's (2005) suggestions.

Franklin (2005) also suggested that experimentalists "would be able to investigate connections that the narrow-experimentalist would not consider asking about for fear of wasting time and yielding a negative result" (p. 898).  Franklin (2005) ends by asking, "might wide instrumentation be productively used to carry out theory-directed experiments?" (p. 898).  Reviewing such accounts inspire this learner-researcher to keep an open mind. 


Franklin, L.R. (2005, December). Exploratory experiments. Philosophy of Science, 72, 888 – 899. Retrieved from

Lelouche, R. (2006, April 23). Exploratory and experimental learning...for teachers and researchers too! Retrieved from

MBA Knowledge Base. (2012). Exploratory research and its methods. Retrieved from


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