Methodological challenges for the qualitative researcher: The use of a conceptual framework within a qualitative case study

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This article presents the MERITS Plus model, a conceptual framework developed during qualitative research into the process of academic transition and the impact of educational choices upon learner identity. The article considers some of the methodological challenges faced by qualitative researchers, and how effective the use of a conceptual framework might be in addressing these issues. The MERITS Plus model was developed and modified through two pilot studies and a piece of major fieldwork, the Learner, Identity and Transition Project (LITP), a qualitative case study conducted in a college of further education in England. Empirical data were collected through semi-structured narrative interviews with 24 learners studying either an A level or a BTEC programme, and from a focus group with teaching staff. The MERITS Plus model is a multilayered approach, comprising, first, a six-element framework (Motivations, Expectations, Reality, Identity, Transition, and Stories and Synthesis) used to analyse the data, and, second, the use of Bourdieu's thinking tools to examine the complexities raised by the data. By combining these approaches, the study was able to present narratives directly by using the MERITS Plus model to create eight composite learner profiles drawn from the data to illustrate the range of different learner types found within one educational setting. Thus, the model is presented as a method of preserving the integrity of participant voice collected via qualitative methods, while allowing a systematic analysis of narratives both as individual stories and as products of particular social contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-141
Number of pages16
JournalLondon Review of Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • learner identity
  • academic transitions
  • conceptual framework
  • Further Education


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