Understanding Learning: A Qualitative Approach

  • Kirsten DalrympleEmail author
  • Debra Nestel
Part of the Innovation and Change in Professional Education book series (ICPE, volume 17)


Building on ideas from Chaps. 30 to 36, we offer worked examples of high-standard qualitative research in surgical education to illustrate key concepts underpinning their design, execution and presentation but also essentially how they achieve coherence through these activities. A key goal is to forward the idea that a significant proportion of surgical education is about humans and social interaction and hence influenced by context, time, place, individual experience and background. There are myriad configurations that create educational success or difficulty and multiple interpretations and explanations for their existence. Qualitative research aims to explore this complexity to answer questions, as argued in Chap. 30, of the how, why, where, when and for who our education practices work. Given the complexity, variability and instability of surgical education, we argue that researchers should embrace the subjective and expand their approaches to creating and evaluating the quality of knowledge gained through research whilst upholding an overarching scientific ethos of being principled and systematic in designing and carrying it out. Engaging in qualitative research entails elevating the concept of ‘coherence’ above that of ‘proof’ when evaluating quality and justifying design. We write this chapter for surgeons who are coming to educational research for the first time.


Qualitative Coherence Methodology Research methods Analysis Grounded theory Case study Constructivist Paradigm Sampling Ethics Research questions Theoretical framework Theory 


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  6. A valuable website on resources for qualitative research methods is:

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of MedicineImperial College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Faculty of Medicine, Nursing & Health Sciences, Monash Institute for Health and Clinical EducationMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  3. 3.Faculty of Medicine Dentistry & Health Sciences, Department of Surgery, Melbourne Medical SchoolUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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