Design-based research (DBR) is a type of research methodology commonly used by researchers in the learning sciences. Within design-based research methodology, interventions are conceptualized and then implemented iteratively in natural settings in order to test the ecological validity of dominant theory and to generate new theories and frameworks for conceptualizing learning, instruction, design processes, and educational reform. Data analysis often takes the form of retrospective, cross-iteration comparisons.
Role of design-based research within the learning sciences
Methodologically, the learning sciences is distinguished from other fields that study learning in humans in its methodological treatment of the subjects of its study, learners, their localities, and their communities. The design-based research methodology is often employed by learning scientists in their inquiries because this methodological framework considers the subject of study to be a complex system involving emergent properties that arise from the interaction of more variables than are initially known to researchers, including variables stemming from the researchers themselves (Brown, 1992). As such rather than attempting to isolate all the various factors that impact learning as in traditional research, the learning sciences employ design based research methodologies which appeal to an approach to the study of learning – in particular human learning both inside and outside of school – that embraces the complex system nature of learning systems. Learning scientists often look at the interactions amongst variables as key components to study yet, acknowledge that within learning environments the interactions are often too complex to study all or completely understand. This stance has been validated by the findings of Cronbach and Snow (1977) which suggest that Aptitude-Treatment Interactions, where variables are isolated in effort to determine what factors “most” influence learning, will not be informative but rather inaccurate and potentially misleading if used as a ground for educational decisions or educational research of complex learning situations such as those characteristic of human beings in their lived experiences.
History and controversy
Design-based research methodologies are often viewed as "non-scientific" by circles in the post-positivist learning research tradition due to the ongoing changes and interactions that are made by researchers who neither do purely empirical observational ethnographic research or purely empirical experimental research in which "fixed and isolated variables" will be measured and not tinkered with mid-experiment but rather use "quasi-experimental methods" in which the experimental design is always going through changes and modifications during the middle of "experimental" interventions. The method was first proposed as 'design-experiments' as Allan Collins in 1990 and 'design experiments' by Ann Brown in 1992. Collins originally proposed design-experiments as contributing to a design science, like aeronautics or artificial intelligence, rather than towards analytic science, such as physics or psychology. Ann Brown famously defended these “quasi-experimental” methods in her final, seminal deathbed paper which outlines the rationale for design-experiments primarily as a way to develop new theories and hypotheses, explicitly suggesting design experiments were for exploratory research only, and this limited applicability was echoed in the 2002 US National Research Council Report on Scientific Methods in Education.
In the mid-1990s, a group called the National Design Experiment Consortium was founded by the late Jan Hawkins, then of Educational Development Corporation, to refine the method. In 1999, Christopher Hoadley founded the Design-Based Research Collective, funded by the Spencer Foundation, and coined the modern term for the method. In 2000, Charles Desforges famously called design experiments 'neither designed, nor experiments'. Special issues exploring the methods, their epistemology, and models for rigor came out in Educational Researcher (2003), Educational Psychologist (2004), Journal of the Learning Sciences (2004), and Educational Technology (2005). Currently, researchers debate whether design-based research methods are primarily useful as an exploratory research method geared towards producing designed artifacts, or whether the method are valid for testing robust social science theories that are contingent on designed artifacts or interventions.
Varieties and forms of design-based research methodologies
As mentioned in the conclusion to the 2008 ICLS keynote(), there are several forms of design based research now in use in education research. These are associated with papers from:
- Anderson, T., & Shattuck, J. (2012). Design-based research: A decade of progress in education research? Educational Researcher, 41(1), 16-25. doi:10.3102/0013189X11428813
- Bannan-Ritland, B. (2003). The role of design in research: The integrative learning design framework. Educational Researcher. 32(1) 21-24.
- Cronbach, L. J. & R. E. Snow (1977): Aptitudes and instructional methods: a handbook for research on interactions. New York: Irvington.
- Brown, A.L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(2), 141-178.
- Collins, A. (1990). Toward a Design Science of Education. New York, NY: Center for Technology in Education. http://cct2.edc.org/ccthome/reports/tr1.html
- Collins, A. (1992). Toward a Design Science of Education. In E. Scanlon & T. O'Shea (Eds.), New directions in educational technology (pp. 15-22). New York: Springer-Verlag.
- Cobb, P., Confrey, J. diSessa, A., Lehrer, R. and Schauble, L. (2003). Design Experiments in Educational Research. Educational Researcher. 32(1) 9-13.
- Design-Based Research Collective. (2003). Design-based research: An emerging paradigm for educational inquiry. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 5-8, 35-37. http://www.designbasedresearch.org/reppubs/DBRC2003.pdf
- diSessa, A. (2006). Designed-Based Research Theory2 and Practice. Presented at the London Knowledge Lab. 2 November 2006. http://www.lkl.ac.uk/video/disessa1106.html
- Hoadley, C. (2002). Creating context: Design-based research in creating and understanding CSCL. In G. Stahl (Ed.), Computer Support for Collaborative Learning 2002 (pp. 453-462). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Hoadley, C. interview: http://projects.coe.uga.edu/dbr/expertinterview.htm
- Kelly, A. E. (2004). Design research in education: Yes, but is it methodological? Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 115-128.
- Mor, Y. (2010) 'A Design Approach to Research in Technology Enhanced Mathematics Education', PhD thesis, Institute of Education, University of London
- Reeves, T., Herrington, J. and Oliver, R. (2005) Design Research: A Socially Responsible Approach to Instructional Technology Research in Higher Education. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 16(2), 97-116.
- Reeves, T. interview: http://projects.coe.uga.edu/dbr/expertinterview.htm
- Sandoval, W. interview: http://projects.coe.uga.edu/dbr/expertinterview.htm
- Shavelson, R. J. and Towne, L. (Eds.) (2002) Scientific Research in Education. National Academy Press. Washington D.C.
- Shavelson, R. J., Phillips, D. C., Towne, L., & Feuer, M. J. (2003). On the science of educational design studies. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 25-28.