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Handout 1

Operational Definition Vs Constitutive Definition

Provide operational definitions of key terms, especially the variables investigated in the
study. In this context, you should be aware of the distinction between a constitutive
definition and an operational definition.

A constitutive definition is the dictionary type of definition. This type of definition helps
to convey the general meaning of a variable, but it is not precise enough for research
purposes. You need to define the variables in your study so that readers know exactly
what is meant by the terms and so that other researchers can replicate the research. This is
only possible if you provide operational definitions of the variables, and there are two
types of operational definitions: measured and experimental.

A measured operational definition details the operations by which researchers measure a

variable. For example, intelligence may be operationally defined as scores on the
Standford-Binet Intelligence Scale. On the other hand, an experimental operational
definition details the steps a researcher takes to produce certain experimental conditions.
For example, the operational definition of concept mapping strategy in a reading research
study may take the form of a group of students reading texts with the help of concept
maps (experimental condition) and another group of students reading texts without the
help of concept maps (control condition).


Problem-based learning (PBL)

PBL is a “term used within education for a range of pedagogic approaches that
encourage students to learn through the structured exploration of a research problem”
and is a “term describing techniques that make students take an active, task-oriented,
and self-directed approach to their own learning” (Mills, 2006, p. 1). Albanese and
Mitchell (1993) propose the most accurate definition for PBL is that it is “an
instructional method characterized by the use of patient problems as a context for
students to learn problem-solving skills and acquire knowledge about basic and
clinical sciences” (p. 53).

In this study, PBL refers to the instructional approach that allowed nursing students to
explore real clinical problems they would encounter later in a small group (6 to 8 students
per group) either via face-to-face or online learning sessions. This instructional approach
is thus operationalised in two delivery modes, face-to-face and online PBL delivery
modes. The effectiveness of the two delivery modes of PBL was determined in
comparison with the lecture method.

Example 2

Learning Achievement

Learning achievement refers to students’ performance in leaning a specific content area

or a course of study. (Constitutive Definition)

In the present study, learning achievement was defined as scores obtained by the Diploma
Nursing students in a True-False Question test on the cardiovascular nursing subjects.
The test was made up of three levels of questions based on the Bloom’s Taxonomy, that
is, Recall, Comprehension and Application. Refer to Appendix B for the question paper.
(Operational definition)