Education Quantitative Research Designs in Educational Research
James H. McMillan, Richard S. Mohn, Micol V. Hammack
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0113


The field of education has embraced quantitative research designs since early in the 20th century. The foundation for these designs was based primarily in the psychological literature, and psychology and the social sciences more generally continued to have a strong influence on quantitative designs until the assimilation of qualitative designs in the 1970s and 1980s. More recently, a renewed emphasis on quasi-experimental and nonexperimental quantitative designs to infer causal conclusions has resulted in many newer sources specifically targeting these approaches to the field of education. This bibliography begins with a discussion of general introductions to all quantitative designs in the educational literature. The sources in this section tend to be textbooks or well-known sources written many years ago, though still very relevant and helpful. It should be noted that there are many other sources in the social sciences more generally that contain principles of quantitative designs that are applicable to education. This article then classifies quantitative designs primarily as either nonexperimental or experimental but also emphasizes the use of nonexperimental designs for making causal inferences. Among experimental designs the article distinguishes between those that include random assignment of subjects, those that are quasi-experimental (with no random assignment), and those that are single-case (single-subject) designs. Quasi-experimental and nonexperimental designs used for making causal inferences are becoming more popular in education given the practical difficulties and expense in conducting well-controlled experiments, particularly with the use of structural equation modeling (SEM). There have also been recent developments in statistical analyses that allow stronger causal inferences. Historically, quantitative designs have been tied closely to sampling, measurement, and statistics. In this bibliography there are important sources for newer statistical procedures that are needed for particular designs, especially single-case designs, but relatively little attention to sampling or measurement. The literature on quantitative designs in education is not well focused or comprehensively addressed in very many sources, except in general overview textbooks. Those sources that do include the range of designs are introductory in nature; more advanced designs and statistical analyses tend to be found in journal articles and other individual documents, with a couple exceptions. Another new trend in educational research designs is the use of mixed-method designs (both quantitative and qualitative), though this article does not emphasize these designs.

General Overviews

For many years there have been textbooks that present the range of quantitative research designs, both in education and the social sciences more broadly. Indeed, most of the quantitative design research principles are much the same for education, psychology, and other social sciences. These sources provide an introduction to basic designs that are used within the broader context of other educational research methodologies such as qualitative and mixed-method. Examples of these textbooks written specifically for education include Johnson and Christensen 2012; Mertens 2010; Arthur, et al. 2012; and Creswell 2012. An example of a similar text written for the social sciences, including education that is dedicated only to quantitative research, is Gliner, et al. 2009. In these texts separate chapters are devoted to different types of quantitative designs. For example, Creswell 2012 contains three quantitative design chapters—experimental, which includes both randomized and quasi-experimental designs; correlational (nonexperimental); and survey (also nonexperimental). Johnson and Christensen 2012 also includes three quantitative design chapters, with greater emphasis on quasi-experimental and single-subject research. Mertens 2010 includes a chapter on causal-comparative designs (nonexperimental). Often survey research is addressed as a distinct type of quantitative research with an emphasis on sampling and measurement (how to design surveys). Green, et al. 2006 also presents introductory chapters on different types of quantitative designs, but each of the chapters has different authors. In this book chapters extend basic designs by examining in greater detail nonexperimental methodologies structured for causal inferences and scaled-up experiments. Two additional sources are noted because they represent the types of publications for the social sciences more broadly that discuss many of the same principles of quantitative design among other types of designs. Bickman and Rog 2009 uses different chapter authors to cover topics such as statistical power for designs, sampling, randomized controlled trials, and quasi-experiments, and educational researchers will find this information helpful in designing their studies. Little 2012 provides a comprehensive coverage of topics related to quantitative methods in the social, behavioral, and education fields.

  • Arthur, James, Michael Waring, Robert Coe, and Larry V. Hedges, eds. 2012. Research methods & methodologies in education. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Readers will find this book more of a handbook than a textbook. Different individuals author each of the chapters, representing quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method designs. The quantitative chapters are on the treatment of advanced statistical applications, including analysis of variance, regression, and multilevel analysis.

  • Bickman, Leonard, and Debra J. Rog, eds. 2009. The SAGE handbook of applied social research methods. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This handbook includes quantitative design chapters that are written for the social sciences broadly. There are relatively advanced treatments of statistical power, randomized controlled trials, and sampling in quantitative designs, though the coverage of additional topics is not as complete as other sources in this section.

  • Creswell, John W. 2012. Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. 4th ed. Boston: Pearson.

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    Creswell presents an introduction to all major types of research designs. Three chapters cover quantitative designs—experimental, correlational, and survey research. Both the correlational and survey research chapters focus on nonexperimental designs. Overall the introductions are complete and helpful to those beginning their study of quantitative research designs.

  • Gliner, Jeffrey A., George A. Morgan, and Nancy L. Leech. 2009. Research methods in applied settings: An integrated approach to design and analysis. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

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    This text, unlike others in this section, is devoted solely to quantitative research. As such, all aspects of quantitative designs are covered. There are separate chapters on experimental, nonexperimental, and single-subject designs and on internal validity, sampling, and data-collection techniques for quantitative studies. The content of the book is somewhat more advanced than others listed in this section and is unique in its quantitative focus.

  • Green, Judith L., Gregory Camilli, and Patricia B. Elmore, eds. 2006. Handbook of complementary methods in education research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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    Green, Camilli, and Elmore edited forty-six chapters that represent many contemporary issues and topics related to quantitative designs. Written by noted researchers, the chapters cover design experiments, quasi-experimentation, randomized experiments, and survey methods. Other chapters include statistical topics that have relevance for quantitative designs.

  • Johnson, Burke, and Larry B. Christensen. 2012. Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This comprehensive textbook of educational research methods includes extensive coverage of qualitative and mixed-method designs along with quantitative designs. Three of twenty chapters focus on quantitative designs (experimental, quasi-experimental, and single-case) and nonexperimental, including longitudinal and retrospective, designs. The level of material is relatively high, and there are introductory chapters on sampling and quantitative analyses.

  • Little, Todd D., ed. 2012. The Oxford handbook of quantitative methods. Vol. 1, Foundations. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This handbook is a relatively advanced treatment of quantitative design and statistical analyses. Multiple authors are used to address strengths and weaknesses of many different issues and methods, including advanced statistical tools.

  • Mertens, Donna M. 2010. Research and evaluation in education and psychology: Integrating diversity with quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods. 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This textbook is an introduction to all types of educational designs and includes four chapters devoted to quantitative research—experimental and quasi-experimental, causal comparative and correlational, survey, and single-case research. The author’s treatment of some topics is somewhat more advanced than texts such as Creswell 2012, with extensive attention to threats to internal validity for some of the designs.

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