Tisdell’s and Merriam & Mohamad’s Qualitative Studies


Researchers usually study the aspects of adult education and cultural impacts with the focus on the qualitative methodology. However, even though researchers often select the standard structure of qualitative papers to present their studies’ results, there is a variety of approaches to applying tools that are characteristic of this specific methodology. In their articles, Elizabeth Tisdell and such researchers as Sharan Merriam and Mazanah Mohamad applied the qualitative methodology to find answers to the set research questions. In this context, it is important to compare how Tisdell’s (2000) work focused on discussing the spiritual development of female adult educators can differ from or be similar to Merriam and Mohamad’s (2000) paper that analyzes how cultural values can influence the learning in adulthood in the context of Malaysia. Even though Tisdell’s and Merriam and Mohamad’s articles discuss problems of adult learning, refer to the social and cultural contexts, and utilize qualitative methodologies, there are differences in the authors’ approaches to presenting results of their studies and interpreting findings. From this point, the purpose of this paper is to present a detailed comparison of Tisdell’s and Merriam and Mohamad’s works with a focus on similarities and differences in these studies.

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Comparison of Tisdell’s and Merriam and Mohamad’s Works

The detailed analysis of the discussed papers about their methodology, the presented purposes, and goals, as well as the declared data collection methods and results, allows for speaking about both similarities and differences. Thus, readers can observe similar features in the selection of methods and presentation of results, as well as in their interpretation in the context of theoretical frameworks. However, there are also divergences in the works because the authors have selected different approaches to accentuate stages of the qualitative study in their papers.

Main Similarities and Points of Consensus between the Articles

To understand why Tisdell’s and Merriam and Mohamad’s articles are similar to this or that extent, it is important to focus on the topics, purposes, and goals of the studies. In her article, Tisdell (2000) aims at answering the question about the impact of spiritual development and commitment associated with cultural backgrounds of female adult educators on their work and emancipatory visions that can be promoted by these women. Thus, it is possible to identify the key aspects of the formulated questions and purposes that are related to Tisdell’s study: cultural backgrounds, spirituality, adult learning, and emancipatory or feminist visions. It is possible to compare these purposes and key aspects with the goals stated in Merriam and Mohamad’s study. According to Merriam and Mohamad (2000), the purpose of their study is to understand the specifics of learning in older adulthood and state how cultural values can influence the learning of adults who live in Malaysia. From this perspective, Tisdell’s and Merriam and Mohamad’s works are similar in terms of accentuating the role of cultural backgrounds to affect adult learning in different contexts and from the perspectives of both educators and learners.

What is more important is that the authors apply the same methodology to answer their research questions and achieve the studies’ goals. In their works, Tisdell (2000) and Merriam and Mohamad (2000) adopt the principles of the qualitative methodology with the focus on inductive and descriptive research. Furthermore, there are also similarities in selecting participants and instruments of data collection. The authors of the discussed studies focus on involving participants according to certain inclusion criteria. Even though these criteria depend on the areas and purposes of the studies, Tisdell (2000) and Merriam and Mohamad (2000) are inclined to invite a similar number of diverse participants. In the case of Tisdell’s study, it is important to recruit sixteen female participants who are diverse in terms of their cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. For Merriam and Mohamad’s (2000) study, it is important to invite nineteen participants who are aged 60-83 years old and diverse in terms of their gender. Thus, the researchers have selected almost equal sample sizes and focused on the aspect of diversity. In addition, in both cases, the authors have used interviews to collect the required data and respond to the stated research questions. Furthermore, one can also compare the approaches to analyzing the collected data because Tisdell and Merriam, and Mohamad have selected the constant comparative method for both studies.

It is also important to note that the researchers follow the same approach to reporting the results of the qualitative study. Tisdell (2000) and Merriam and Mohamad (2000) have analyzed the interviewees’ responses and identified three main themes in their works. In Tisdell’s (2000) research, the main focus is on such topics as “moving away – spiraling back,” “a healing life-force,” and “the development of authentic identity” (p. 471). Thus, the researcher has concluded that “the participants indeed had a strong sense of mission in terms of trying to challenge systems of oppression based on race, class, gender, ability, and sexual orientation in their adult education practices,” and for them, “this was fueled not only by their spirituality, but also by a connection to their personal and cultural history, and in some cases an ancestral connection as well” (Tisdell, 2000, p. 472). In the work by Merriam and Mohamad (2000), three themes are based on visions of learning as non-formal, communal and influenced by spiritual or religious views. The authors have concluded that the learning of elderly people can be discussed as influenced by specifics of everyday life, religious visions, and relations in the community. It is also typical of the Malaysian culture to influence adults’ learning concerning persons’ spirituality and their visions of hierarchy and collective actions. Therefore, one can state that the researchers similarly report their findings while accentuating the role of spirituality.

Differences and Possible Limitations in the Articles

Although the discussed papers are similar, there are also divergences in the researchers’ approaches to applying theoretical perspectives, using methods, and interpreting results. The work by Tisdell (2000) differs from the research by Merriam and Mohamad (2000) because of refers to the feminist framework that influences the author’s interpretation of the results. In Merriam and Mohamad’s study, the main focus is not on a gender perspective, but on a cultural perspective because the authors pay attention to contrasting Western and Asian values while accentuating the role of the Malaysian culture in affecting adults’ visions and learning. Furthermore, despite adopting the principles of the qualitative methodology and selecting interviews as main instruments, Tisdell (2000) refers to the analysis of the written narratives in addition to conducting interviews, and Merriam and Mohamad (2000) use informal observations to support the findings received as a result of interviewing the participants.

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On the one hand, it is possible to state that researchers follow similar approaches to reporting the results, and differences are only in aspects of the concrete topic. On the other hand, it is possible to note that Tisdell (2000) provides short descriptions of the study’s results that are supported by several examples of narratives, and Merriam and Mohamad (2000) present the detailed analysis of results followed by the discussion and explanation of the key points. Moreover, Merriam and Mohamad provide the table to describe a demographic profile of the participants and represent the background for findings. Nevertheless, according to Englander (2012), the researchers systematically present the results, and this aspect is one of the papers’ strengths.

Still, despite the discussed differences, both articles have limitations that are not stated clearly in the final sections of the works. According to Cleary, Horsfall, and Hayter (2014), qualitative studies need to list possible limitations to accentuate the research’s credibility. For instance, although the aspects of spirituality and religiosity are discussed in both papers, there are no clear definitions of these terms to assess the role of these notions in forming adults’ visions and their further learning. One can pay attention to the fact that limitations in formulating theoretical perspectives influence the overall quality of the discussed studies. Thus, Tisdell (2000) states that almost all of the interviewed females report changes in their spirituality, as well as the rethinking of their religious views, learned during their childhood. These aspects influence their further vision of adult learning and possible feminist ideas. However, the researcher does not provide a detailed discussion of the feminist framework and analysis of the notion of spirituality that can be or is not associated with religion, and there is a risk of biased interpretations of results.

In the study by Merriam and Mohamad (2000), the risk of presenting biased interpretations is based on a different aspect. The problem is in the authors’ visions of cultural backgrounds and associated behaviors. Merriam and Mohamad present a detailed analysis of the literature related to the topic, and they distinguish between cultural values typical of Western and Asian patterns in general, and Malaysian patterns in particular. However, according to the researchers, the learning of elderly people in Malaysia is determined by cultural aspects that are typical of not only the Malaysian culture but also other Asian cultures that focus on valuing relationships, hierarchy, and collectivism (Merriam & Mohamad, 2000). From this point, the researchers need to pay more attention to interpreting the findings in the context of specific features typical of the Malaysian culture because this aspect is accentuated in the study’s purpose.

Structure of Qualitative Studies

It is also necessary to concentrate on the structure that is common for both papers because they report the results of qualitative studies. Thus, qualitative articles follow the specific structure that can be observed in both papers. First, researchers should provide the background for their study and present the research questions to discuss. There are no hypotheses in qualitative research (Qualitative research designs, n.d.). In both studies, the authors have formulated purposes that are the main points to guide the research. The next important section presented in both articles is the literature review. In the study by Tisdell (2000), the review is titled with the focus on its potential as the theoretical framework. In Merriam and Mohamad’s (2000) work, the literature review is titled “Cultural values, aging, and learning” (p. 46). It is important to provide reviews of previous studies in qualitative research because of the necessity to identify gaps in works and determine theoretical models that can guide a concrete study.

After presenting the review of the available literature and identifying the areas to research and discuss, authors should describe methodological approaches and instruments that they plan to employ in the study. In both papers, much attention is paid to the detailed description of methodologies because researchers need to discuss each step of their data collection processes and analysis to conclude about the study’s validity or credibility. The appropriate description of methods in the studies by Tisdell (2000) and Merriam and Mohamad (2000) allows for concluding regarding the use of interviews as the main tools and additional methods, including the written narratives and informal observations. The data is presented in the results section, and the approaches to providing findings are different. Researchers usually include a limited number of tables in their qualitative studies (Cleary et al., 2014). However, one can discuss the table in the article by Merriam and Mohamad (2000) as contributing to the quality of the study. The specific structure of the results section in qualitative articles allows for providing extensive narratives and numerous quotes as a result of interviewing the participants. The discussion usually follows this section, and there are often no conclusions in qualitative articles. However, researchers need to provide limitations in their final sections, as well as suggestions for further research (Qualitative research designs, n.d.). The discussed articles lack these subsections. The standard structure of the qualitative study or article is presented in Figure 1.

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The Structure of the Qualitative Study.
Figure 1. The Structure of the Qualitative Study.


The articles by Tisdell and Merriam and Mohamad are similar in terms of the research areas and topics they address. Furthermore, there are many similarities associated with the selection of the qualitative methodology for the studies. These two articles follow the same structure typical of qualitative papers to pose research questions, describe the methodology, present results, and discuss them with the focus on the identified themes. However, despite the determined similarities, some differences depending on the authors’ approaches to discussing this or that aspect. Thus, the article by Tisdell is significantly shorter than the work by Merriam and Mohamad. The researchers have chosen to accentuate different aspects of the studies, and Merriam and Mohamad pay more attention to presenting the detailed review of literature and data collected with the help of interviews. On the contrary, the results and discussion sections in the work by Tisdell are rather concise. However, despite possible differences and limitations, one can view the analyzed papers as appropriate examples of qualitative articles that report the results of studies in a proper manner. From this point, the quality of a study depends not only on the approach to interpreting findings but also on the structure and details regarding the methodology.


  1. Cleary, M., Horsfall, J., & Hayter, M. (2014). Data collection and sampling in qualitative research: Does size matter? Journal of Advanced Nursing, 70(3), 473-475.
  2. Englander, M. (2012). The interview: Data collection in descriptive phenomenological human scientific research. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 43(1), 13-35.
  3. Merriam, S. B., & Mohamad, M. (2000). How cultural values shape learning in older adulthood: The case of Malaysia. Adult Education Quarterly, 51(1), 45-63.
  4. Tisdell, E. J. (2000). Spiritual development and commitments to emancipatory education in women adult educators for social change. Adult Education Research, 1(2), 469-474.
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