Guardian Financial Services

Learning events in Guardian Financial Services traditionally involve a range of various training methods that include some or all of the following: workshops, video, presentations, flipcharts, workbooks, quizzes or overhead projectors. Research suggests that role plays have a part to play as a learning tool whilst I have tended to hold the personal view that role plays prove daunting for learners and have consequently never used this method. However, the purpose of the research is to explore the use of role-plays within the training environment and consider their viability and effectiveness and whether these can add value for learners to the whole experience.

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This document sets out the steps involved in the process of conducting the research into role-plays. The Process Blaxter et al (1997) identified 2 different methods for designing and doing a research project, their ‘research families’ (P58) of qualitative and quantitative methods. Cohen and Mannion (1998) go a stage further and view qualitative research as a search for understanding in which ‘…the principal concern is with …the way in which the individual creates, modifies and interprets the world in which he or she finds himself or herself.’ (P8) Researchers who adopted this qualitative approach, responsive to individual perceptions, were felt by Bell (1993) to ‘…seek insights rather than statistical analysis.’ (P6)

Quantitative research on the other hand cannot literally be seen as being subject to quantification, Bryman (1989), rather the suggestion from Bell ( 1993) that there is more to this method. ‘…quantitative researchers collect facts and study the relationship of one set of facts to another.’ (P5) She goes on to add. ‘They measure, using scientific techniques that are likely to produce quantified and, if possible, generalizable conclusions.’

The approach to this research project will be on a qualitative basis and whilst there are a range of disadvantages to this method, including, as identified by Anderson (1990) – the ability to collect a large number of replies, allow for easy collation and cheap and readily available, Anderson did identify advantages with a qualitative approach. Significantly, when gathering data and information Anderson held that a qualitative approach enables the researcher to really understand another person, and qualitative research tends to focus on learners, central to the research project, and their views of the world. The research project is based upon the consideration of role-plays within the organisation and as such will not lend itself naturally to a quantitative or scientific basis.

To some extent, the research design depends on what Barnes (1992) highlights as either a deductive or inductive approach to the project, with action research a key method of the latter. Barnes takes the view that when using action research, ‘…the outcomes…are generally increased knowledge, understanding and improved practice.’ (P114) The implication from this is that action research has a relevance for what I will be undertaking and indeed Blaxter et al (1997) confirm this by pointing out that ‘…it is well suited to the needs of people conducting research in their own workplaces, and who have a focus on improving aspects of their own and their colleagues’ practices.’ (P64)

Cohen and Mannion (1998) also focus their thoughts on this work-related aspect of action research by suggesting that it ‘…is situational – it is concerned with diagnosing a problem in a specific context and attempting to solve it in that context.’ (P186) Although action research as a basis suits the needs of my project as shown above, there are a number of criticisms about the method, often reflecting Cohen and Mannion’s comments that it is not scientific, ‘…its sample is restricted and unrepresentative…its findings …are restricted to the environment in which the research is carried out.’ (P193)

Research data will be accumulated by the use of interviews with colleagues, questionnaires completed by learners and observation of individual learner performance. Given that the project is small-scale and may only involve a relatively small pilot exercise, are three different methods of obtaining the information necessary. This common multi-method approach is referred to as triangulation, as originally identified by the works of Elliott and Adelman (1976), and has been defined in Open University course 811 Study Guide (1988) as ‘…cross-checking the existence of certain phenomena and the veracity of individual accounts by gathering data from a number of informants and a number of sources and subsequently comparing and contrasting one account with another in order to produce as full and balanced a study as possible.’ (P54)

Although the research project is relatively small and will not run over a lengthy period the use of triangulation will go some way to meeting the need for the data collection techniques to be both reliable and valid. Reliability ‘…refers to the consistency of a measure’ (Bryman, 1989:P55). Blaxter et al (1997) summarise the issue of reliability in simple terms as considering whether ‘…you have carried it out in such a way that, if another researcher were to look into the same questions in the same setting, they would come up with essentially the same results …’ (P200) Validity is identified in a similar tone by the same authors, ‘…to do with whether your methods, approaches and techniques actually relate to, or measure, the issues you have been exploring.’

Despite the use of apparently straightforward data collection techniques, interview, questionnaire and observation, there are strengths and weaknesses with each and issues to be considered. Cohen and Mannion (1998) describe the research interview as ‘an unusual method in that it involves the gathering of data through direct verbal interaction between individuals.’ Whilst McKernan (2000) holds that the research interview ‘…is one of the most effective modes of gathering data in any inquiry…’ (P128) and its structured or semi-structured format ‘…allows for greater depth than is the case with other methods of data collection.’ (Cohen and Mannion, 1998:P272), there are potential difficulties.

Cohen and Mannion argue that a disadvantage ‘…is that it is prone to subjectivity and bias on the part of the interviewer.’ (P272) As the main purpose of the interviews is to gather the personal thoughts and views of colleagues I intend to use a semi-structured interview which has the added bonus, as Bryman (1998) puts it, of being able ‘…to check the validity of information from other methods.’ (P150)

An extra consideration with an interview is the effect of bias largely because, as Sellitz et al (1962) puts it, ‘…interviewers are human beings and not machines.’ (P583). Whilst there are a range of techniques to reduce the effect of bias including, according to Cohen and Mannion (1998) ‘…careful formulation of the questions so that the meaning is crystal clear (P282), Bell (1993) contends that ‘…it is easier to acknowledge the fact that bias can creep in than to eliminate it altogether.’ (P95)