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Why learning with the OU, indeed distance and e-learning, will always be constrained by the lack of ‘bonding’ between pupil and tutor.

I am asthmatic. I recently attended an ‘asthma clinic’ – a one to one with a specialist nurse. We are able to get on the same wavelength because she recently completed her training on asthma and I have been preparing a PhD proposal that uses an e-learning platform to support people with a chronic illness – indeed a massive randomized controlled trial has just begun in the States. Its limitations are simple – in many instances we do a thing well in order to please another person. In tertiary education this means your tutor – in the MAODE we never meet, there are no tutorials. One tutorial a month in other courses, undergraduate and graduate at a residential, isn’t enough, IMHO, to establish adequate rapport. Where universities have a tutor system a life long friendship forms, especially where hard work is rewarded with a smile. I comply to my asthma and rhinitis drugs to please another human being – it happens to keep me healthy too. Personally, and of course it differs between people, I would do better in my studies for a smile. This makes learning French using Rosetta Stone, very limiting. As a teenager I did one of those exchanges – people smiled because I was an idiot who tried hard, my reward was lifelong friendship.

Research Terms


The many methods used all have names. In a brave attempt at getting my head around these I’ve started this list for the terms I stumble upon in H809 and related reading.

CRD : A cluster randomised design – by class as it is impractical to teach different things to the same group. (Torgerson and Torgerson 2001. p. 321)
CCT : Case Control Trial – A characteristic of this approach is that the two sets of schools may well be different in a number of aspects other than the intervention being tested, and this may affect the results. i.e. Schools needed to have been either chosen randomly or chosen because the had a similar intake and similar results.
Epistemological : the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity. (Merriam-Webster)
Ethnography : studying a particular culture by learning to live the life of its members (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1994).
Exploratory RCT: The explanatory trial design is probably the one with which most people are familiar.   (Torgerson and Torgerson 2001. p. 320)
Evidence based research: Randomized Control Trials  (RCT) – as Dr B. Price Kerfoot et al (2006-2012)
Interpretive paradigm: qualitative methods.
IRD. An individual randomised design – as with Spaced Education at Harvard Medical School under Dr. B. Price Kerfoot. (Torgerson and Torgerson 2001. p. 321)
Positivism: a belief in the application of a particular model of the methods of the natural sciences. In Wegerif: verification of hypotheses, numerical measurement, tests of statistical significance and experiments.
The pragmatic RCT : the environment in which the trial is conducted is kept as close to normal educational practice as possible, though the sample has to be far larger to detect smaller changes. (Torgerson and Torgerson 2001. p. 320)
Quantitative: of, relating to, or involving the measurement of quantity or amount. (Merriam-Webster) Coding schemes and publicly verifiable criteria to make categorisations. (Wegerif and Mercer.  1997. p. 271)
Qualitative: of, relating to, or involving quality or kind. (Merriam-Webster) Interpretative method (Torgerson and Torgerson, 2001) Interpretative analysis of transcribed speech = qualitative.  Are the techniques valid? The study of shared knowledge over time. Crook (1994) ‘Qualitative analysis can be effective for generating theories but not so effective for rigorously testing them (Hammersley, 1992).


Hammersley, M. (1992) What’s Wrong with Ethnography. London: Routledge.

Kerfoot.B.P., Yineng Fu, Baker.B., Connelly.D., Ritchey.M.L., Genega.M.G. (2010) Online Spaced Education Generates Transfer and Improves Long-Term Retentionof Diagnostic Skills: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Journal of the American College of Surgeons, Volume 211, Issue ,September 2010, Pages 331-337.e1, ISSN 1072-7515, 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2010.04.023.

Torgeson.C.J., and Torgerson.D.J. (2001) The Need for Randomised Controlled Trials in Educational Research British Journal of Educational Studies , Vol. 49, No. 3 (Sep., 2001), pp. 316-328

Even a well-designed quasi-experimental study is inferior to a well-designed randomised controlled trial.

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In favour of randomized control trials

Torgerson and Torgerson (2001)

The dominant paradigm in educational research is based on qualitative methodologies (interpretive paradigm).  Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 317)

Despite fairly widespread use of quantitative methods the most rigorous of these, the randomised controlled trial (RCT), is rarely used in British educational research. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 317)

Even a well-designed quasi-experimental study is inferior to a well-designed randomised controlled trial. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 318)

Something I’ll need to get my head around – again!

The first problem is the statistical phenomenon of regression to the mean (Cook and Campbell, 1979; Torgerson, C.J., 2000) All groups studied need to have the same regression to the mean chances. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 318)

Non-randomised quantitative methods are nearly always inferior to the randomised trial. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 319)

Nearly 40 years ago Schwartz and Lellouch described two types of randomised trial: the ‘explanatory trial’ and the ‘pragmatic trial’ (Schwartz and Lellouch, 1967).

The explanatory trial design is probably the one with which most people are familiar.

This type of study is tightly controlled and, where possible, placebo interventions are used.

Thus, one may take a large group of children all from a similar socio-economic background and attainment and randomly allocate them into two groups. One group receives the intervention under investigation whilst the other receives a dummy or sham intervention.  Torgerson and Torgerson  (2001. p. 320)

The pragmatic trial : the environment in which the trial is conducted is kept as close to normal educational practice as possible.

The children, or schools, are allocated the new intervention at random. A disadvantage of the pragmatic approach is that the trials usually have to be much larger than the explanatory approach but the pragmatic trial approach is probably the most feasible and useful trial design for educational research. Because the trial mimics normal educational practice, there is a greater variation that can make it harder to detect a small effect. To cope with this the sample size needs to be increased accordingly. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 320)

The underlying idea of a randomised trial is exceedingly simple.

Two or more groups of children, identical in all respects, are assembled. Clearly, the individual children are different but when groups of children are assembled by randomisation, and with a large enough sample size, they will be sufficiently similar at the group level in order to make meaningful comparisons. In other words, the differences are spread equally across both groups, making them essentially the same. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 321)

The analysis of a randomised trial is actually simpler than other forms of quantitative research because we know the two groups are similar at baseline. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 321)

Randomisation creates groups with the same proportion of girls, with the same proportion of pupils from various socio-economic and ethnic groups, with the same distribution of ages, heights, weights etc. – this is the simple elegance of randomisation! Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 323)

To avoid observer bias blinded outcome assessment must be undertaken.  Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 324)

Qualitative methodologies are well suited to investigating what happens with individuals; RCTs are appropriate for looking at the larger units relevant to policy makers. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 3264)


SCHWARTZ, D. and LELLOUCH, D. (1967) Explanatory and pragmatic attitudes
in therapeutic trials. Journal of Chronic Diseases 20, 637–648.

Torgerson, C, & Torgerson, D 2001, ‘The Need for Randomised Controlled Trials in Educational Research’, British Journal Of Educational Studies, 3, p. 316, JSTOR Arts & Sciences IV, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 February 201


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