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Design-based research and technology-enhanced learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 5-23



During the past decade, design-based research has demonstrated its potential as a methodology suitable to both research and design of technology-enhanced learning environments (TELEs). In this paper, we define and identify characteristics of design-based research, describe the importance of design-based research for the development of TELEs, propose principles for implementing design-based research with TELEs, and discuss future challenges of using this methodology.
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Using Design-based Research in Design and Research of Technology-
Enhanced Learning Environments
Feng Wang
Michael J. Hannafin
The University of Georgia
In the past decade, a new research paradigm—design-based research—has
showed great potential as an ideal alternative research methodology. Design-based
research is suitable to both research and design of technology-enhanced learning
environments (TELEs). At the beginning of this presentation, we will propose the
definition and five characteristics of design-based research research methodology. Then,
we will discuss why design-based research is important to both research and design of
TELEs. Next, nine principles are provided that are essential to successfully implementing
design-based research methodology with TELEs. Finally, we will discuss its implications,
challenges, and payoffs to TELE designers.
The application of technology in education remains unsatisfying; TELEs have not
been widely used by students and teachers (Cuban, 1986, 2001; Kent & McNergney,
1999). To address these problems, a new educational research paradigm — design-based
research — has showed great potential to change the disappointing disconnect between
educational research and design practice. The design-based research paradigm, advanced
initially by Ann Brown (1992) and Allan Collins (1992) as design experiments, posits
intimate relationships between design and engineering and tends to be both scientific and
educational (Kelly, 2003). Design-based research deconstructs the presumed integrity
that the research should not be contaminated by the external influence of the research
(Barab & Kirshner, 2001). Researchers in design-based research processes collaborate
intimately with participants to achieve theoretical and pragmatic goals that will ultimately
change educational practices in a maximum extent.
For TELE design and research, design-based research methodology is even more
promising. Many TELE projects proven spectacularly successful in recent years feature
this methodology, such as WISE (Bell & Linn, 2000), Adventures of Jasper Woodbury
(Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992a, 1992b), and CSILE (Cohen &
Scardamalia, 1998). The purposes of this presentation are to summarize the key ideas of
design-based research, to describe the utility of design-based research for both TELE
research and design, to provide principles deemed essential to successful TELE s based
on design-based research methodology, and to discuss implications, challenges, and
payoffs for TELE designers.
Design-based research introduction
We use the term “design-based research” specifically to represent a research
paradigm comprising many labels in the literature, including: 1) design experiments
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(Brown, 1992; Collins, 1992), 2) design-based research (The Design-Based Research
Collective, 2003), 3)design research (Cobb, 2001; Edelson, 2002; Collins, Joseph, &
Bielaczyc, in press, 4) development research (van den Akker, 1999) or developmental
research (Richey & Nelson, 1996), 5) formative research (Walker, 1992), and 6) action
research (Stringer, 1999). Though some have slightly different foci, the intrinsic ideas are
consistent. We propose the following definition:
Design-based research is a research methodology aimed to improve educational
practices through systematic, flexible, and iterative review, analysis, design, development,
and implementation, based upon collaboration among researchers and practitioners in
real-world settings, and leading to design principles or theories.
We summarize the key ideas of design-based research through five basic
Pragmatic research goal
Design-based research posits synergy between practice and research, propelling
the development of practice as much as possible. From a design-based research
perspective, research should refine both theory and practice (Collins, Joseph, Bielaczyc,
in press); ultimately, the value of theory will be appraised by the extent to which their
principles inform and improve practice (Greeno & Collins, 1996; Cobb, Confrey, diSessa,
Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003).
Grounded research methodology
As design-based research is usually conducted in a limited number of settings, the
research and design process need to be grounded. Design-based research is conducted in
real-world contexts with social interaction rather than laboratory settings with social
isolation (Collins, 1999). Before conducting a design-based research, researchers review
literature and available design cases to identify gaps to ensure the value of the research
(Edelson, 2002). Its theory driven nature is important in that design-based methods are
considered more a research paradigm than an evaluation method.
Interactive, iterative, and flexible research process
Design-based research process is characterized by an iterative cycle of design,
enactment or implementation, analysis, and redesign (The Design-Based Research
Collective, 2003). Through this cycle, a theory will be gradually formed and updated
based on the accumulated data collected in each design iteration as well as
implementation experiences of the designer(s) (Edelson, 2002).The interactive, iterative
and flexible research process also corresponds to timely factors in the local settings (The
Design-Based Research Collective). Tacitly, in the design-based research process, a
researcher needs to balance the role as a designer and a researcher. This is not necessarily
negative as it helps to balance different solutions and perspectives (van den Akker, 1999).
Integrative research methods
Design-based researchers use mixed methods to maximum the credibility and
adaptability of their methods. Methods used in design-based research are not unique to
design-based research, such as survey, expert review, evaluation, case study, interview,
inquiry methods, etc. (Richey & Nelson, 1996; McCandliss, Kalchman, & Bryant, 2003).
Retrospective analysis and formative evaluation are also considered methods of design-
based research (van den Akker, 1999; Edelson, 2002; Cobb et al., 2003).
Contextual research results
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The results generated from design-based research take the form of a profile akin
to a consumer report (Collins et al., in press) or principles in the form of heuristic
statements. The research process, the research findings, and any change from the initial
plan are documented; some warrants or guidance on how to use these principles are also
provided (Shavelson, Phillips, Towne, & Feuer, 2003). Thus, other researchers or
designers can trace the emergence of an innovation or combinations of innovations
according to their interests; they also examine contexts or conditions that led to different
effects (Baumgartner & Bell, 2002).
Importance of design-based research to TELEs
Design and research on TELEs are mutually beneficial. Design processes,
especially research-driven designs, can be thought of as research processes. Design is a
strategy for developing, refining, and testing theories with design-based research rather
than a way to implement theories for testing with traditional research methodologies
(Edelson, 2002). Regarding the history of design TELEs, however, design and research
are often mismatched. Numerous learning environments were developed using
contradictory theory bases; designs are not supported by underlying theories so the
outcomes are not traceable to an emerging theory (Collins, 1992). With traditional
research methodologies, research is usually conducted after the design processes and
research results generated from traditional research methodologies are too abstract to be
referable (Cobb, et al., 2003). Thus, it is difficult for TELE designers to identify and
apply useful theories to guide their designs.
With the design-based methodology, design and research processes are integrated.
Design-based research, with its pragmatic goal, grounded methodology, integrative
methods, contextual results, and interactive, iterative, flexible processes, not only
supports TELE design but also generates useful, practical theories. In the following
section, we explicate the importance of design-based approaches to TELEs using three
1) design-based research can support the design of TELEs;
2) TELE design processes can be research;
3) design-based research is an ideal research methodology on TELEs.
There are other important considerations. First, many problems associated with
educational research methodologies became apparent especially in the past decade; more
and more educational researchers voice the need to employ pragmatic research
methodologies capable of narrowing the gap between theory and practice. Some TELE
designers also argued the need to integrate research and design on TELEs. Research on
TELEs should take the form of design because knowledge generated from the design
processes are unique and can support the design of TELEs in a maximum extend. As
design-based research can bring so many benefits to TELE designers, we would argue
that it’s an ideal way to both design and research of TELEs.
Principles for design-based research
In the following section, we discuss the methodology of design-based research
through principles essential to the successful implementation of design-based research on
TELEs. We do not intend to build a general framework of design-based research, but
rather to inform the design-based research within the context of TELEs.
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Support the design with research from the outset
Set pragmatic theory goals and initial plans
Conduct research in real-world settings without exception
Collaborate with participants intimately
Use research methods systematically
Analyze collected data retrospectively and constantly
Refine the design continuously and iteratively
Report contextual and usable design principles
Underscore the generizability of the design continuously
Challenges for design-based researchers
As a relatively new methodology, design-based research has both advantages and
limitations; important unanswered questions remain: What epistemology and theory
perspectives underlie design-based research initiatives? How do we reconcile the mixed
methods needed in the research processes? How do we balance the goal of improving
practice and the goal of generating design principles? The pragmatic nature of design-
based research also limits the applicability of traditional theories and related constructs
which may be necessary in some situations. After all, the culture of present-day practice
is affected deeply by empirical research methodologies that appears “scientifically
credible” because of the presumed discipline of the inquiry and statistical evidence
typically accompanying reports; thus, design-based research may not be as well-suited for
administrators or politicians as empirical methodologies given policy debates and
emphasis on “Scientifically-based research” (Cobb, 2001). Finally, as design-based
research requires documenting the whole research processes in authentic learning
environments, the amount of data collected is typically large, requiring both extended
time and resources to analyze (Collins, Joseph, & Bielaczyc, in revision).
Payoffs and conclusions
Design-based research affords many opportunities for improvement to both
design and research on TELEs. We view three areas as most promising: a) propelling the
application of TELEs in classrooms, b) productively and effectively generating credible
and useful theories, and c) transforming disappointing traditional research and design
methodologies. When design-based research is employed by more designers and
researchers, its benefits will be more evident. For the field of instructional technology
specifically, design-based research is critical to the evolution of its theory base (Richey &
Nelson, 1996). TELE designers should collect their efforts to accelerate the coming
systematic change brought by the design-based research methodology.
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This paper can be cited as:
Wang, F., & Hannafin, M. J. (2004). Using design-based research in
design and research of technology-enhanced learning environments.
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational
Research Association, San Diego, CA.
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