EDCI 515: Assignment #2 A look at Hermeneutic Phenomenology  

The author of, Phenomenology of Practice: Meaning-Giving Methods in Phenomenological Research and Writing, Max van Manen was born in 1942. This Dutch-born Canadian scholar specializes in phenomenological research methods and pedagogy. He was educated as a teacher specializing in teaching English as a Second Language and later immigrated to Canada in 1967, teaching for several years in public education in Edmonton Alberta. He completed his Med in 1971 and later his PhD in 1973 at the University of Alberta. (van Manen, 2019, Biography section, para. 1).

Having immigrated to Canada in 1967, he has seen firsthand many of the challenges as well as the highlights in Canadian history. This has likely shaped his understanding, and fed both his hunger and fascination with the concept of phenomenology.

During his early studies, Max was struck by the relationships between the pedagogical approaches to education in the Netherlands as well as the strong behaviorism of North American education. His pedagogical approaches addressed the personal, relational, motivational, emotional and value-based preconditions applied to what we view as good teaching practice.

Specifically focusing on Chapter 2 in Max’ book, Phenomenology of Practice: Meaning-Giving Methods in Phenomenological Research and Writing, the concept of Hermeneutic Phenomenology is presented and discussed. This concept of “Hermeneutic Phenomenology is a method of abstemious reflection on the basic structures of the lived experience of human existence.” (Manen, 2014, p.26). The author further describes this as the “reflection on lived experiences,” a “study of meanings and insights.” (2014).

What does this really mean you might ask? Its premise is based on the concept that you have to start with a lived experience (this experience can be derived from an individual’s culture, language or past experiences). It can start with simply asking a question to capture the understanding of a lived experience. As the author states that the value of phenomenology is that, “it prioritizes how the human being experiences the world.” (Manen, 2014, p.58). The researcher needs to be open minded and present in the data collection process. We recognize that our experiences change over time, as well tell them, retell them, remember them, misremember them and relive these experiences.

Van Manen’s concept of phenomenology and developed research method that is “less procedurally driven but grounded in the rich philosophical phenomenological tradition.” (2014, p. 6). Looking at the Phenomenology as a research method includes the features below:

  • Hermeneutic Phenomenology evokes wonder and curiosity
  • The research questions explore given moments as pre reflective or lived experiences
  • The research methodology aims to focus on a phenomenon or event- an experience or moment in time (Michael van Manen & van Manen, 2014, p. 6-7)


How does HP fit into scientific research? Hermeneutic Phenomenology does not fit with primarily collecting quantitative data. The researcher needs to be aware that when describing a phenomenon as its existence can then be distorted, however there are many possibilities for evaluation, critique and assessment. Despite this, researchers need to consider that certain topics cannot be assessed or evaluated using traditional (western) research methods. A research question is attainable if the question is framed through a phenomenological lens (oriented around a lived experience). Manen explains, “The range of phenomenological meanings of our lived experiences is truly inexhaustible.” (Manen, 2014, p.35). By retelling past experiences with enriched details we evoke questions and answers, insights and further our reflective questioning.

After reading this research article I had to ask myself, how could I apply this to my own research? The concept of Hermeneutic Phenomenology can be used as an avenue for research to spark curiosity, develop inquiry or explore feelings of intrinsic motivation towards a wonder they may have. As the researcher, we have to recognize how this phenomenology works in that we are capturing a moment in time. If we try to attempt to capture a moment and define it, label it or categorize it for further analysis it is no longer considered a phenomenon.

In looking at this research method, it is important to make mention of how this data could be collected. Interviews, video diaries, conversations, anecdotal notes, audio recordings and research diaries would work well in data collection, detailing as much of the experience as possible. The researcher may look at using guiding questions to help participants frame their experiences. This method as well speaks to the use of descriptive language and how it is used in writing, as a way to construct identity and meaning from one’s personal experience.

To contrast, I looked at the article, Why Teach with PBL? Motivational Factors Underlying Middle and High School Teachers Use of Problem Based Learning, by Huei-Chen Lee & Margaret R. Blanchard. This quantitative study examined factors underlying middle and high school teachers’ choices about whether to use problem-based learning (PBL). The purpose of this study using its quantitative methods, was to investigate the differences in PBL experiences and their perceived abilities to teach with PBL, underlying motivations and decisions around implementation.

The authors collected data from survey items from 156 participants (secondary teachers). These surveys used structured questions that aimed to measured: perceived competence, autonomy, relatedness, value and cost placed on the implementation of PBL. The participants were organized by demographics and grouped into two categories (experienced with using PBL or not experienced with using PBL). The data collected, focused a lot on the demographics, as well as prevalent reasons for not using this pedagogy. The findings from this research study indicated that teachers with PBL experience felt competent and expected to succeed when implementing PBL. Not surprising those who have never taught PBL did not feel competent, thus questioning their ability to overcome issues such as students’ struggling with this pedagogy and meeting rigid state requirements. (Lee, H., & Blanchard, M.R., 2019). “Teachers with PBL and teachers without PBL experience both, recognized the costs associated with implementing this pedagogy, although the non- PBL group teachers had significantly higher levels of anxiety and concerns about the effort required for this pedagogy. (Lee, H., & Blanchard, M.R., 2019).

What would this research study look like using hermeneutic phenomenology? “Phenomenology does not necessarily have to follow the standard social science practice of empirical data gathering through interview, observation…” (van Manen, 2014). Rather than solely gathering information through surveys, face-to-face conversations would provide more meaningful data if we were looking at it through the lens of phenomenology. The researchers could also use a smaller sample size, as the descriptive experiences using this methodology would provide researchers with rich data to use in this study.

In framing questions that lend themselves to focus more on the experience of implementing PBL we need to consider asking questions that allow the participants to speak more about the experience.

Examples of questions may be:

Describe what PBL looks like to you?

What is your perspective on using PBL in the classroom?

What does PBL look like when it is used effectively? Not effectively?

Describe what motivates you to use PBL?

These types of questions lend themselves to think more about the teacher experience, which in turn provides insight on what may or may not affect their motivation to use PBL.

The questions posed in the survey don’t lend themselves to providing information about the experience that ultimately informs how they are motivated to use PBL. The participants in this study were asked to rate their use and frequency of PBL, however they aren’t reflecting on their experiences using it.  Some examples of the survey questions included focusing on what subjects they taught, what their previous teaching experience entailed and how many training or professional development opportunities they have been provided. For example, asking a question about their perceived experiences with training for PBL and then in turn their experiences of implementing PBL in their classroom, might tell us more about the work that needs to be done around training. Furthermore it might allude to the misconceptions or hesitations that teachers have around implementing PBL in their classroom.

To conclude, looking at the PBL study through the lens of van Manen’s phenomenology provides more insight into the studies participants and their experiences using PBL, as well as may tell us more about the challenges of implementing this in the classroom. Studying and investigating the differences in PBL experiences and the underlying motivations and decisions around the implementation, through this lens could tell researchers more about the experiences teachers have faced and therefor how this impacts the implementation of PBL.


Lee, H., & Blanchard, M. R. (2019).Why Teach with PBL? Motivational Factors Underlying Middle and High School Teachers’ Use of Problem- Based Learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 13 (I).

van Manen, M. (2003). Researching the Experience of Pedagogy. Education Canada, 42 (4), 24-27.

van Manen, M. (2014) Phenomenology of Practice: Giving Meaning and Methods in Phenomenological Research and Writing. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

van Manen, Michael, & van Manen, M. (2014). Phenomenology. In Encyclopedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy (Vols. 1-2, pp.611-616).

van Manen, M. (2019). Biolography. Retrieved from https://www.maxvanmanen.com/biography/