Tracing the growth, gaps, and characteristics in positive education science: a long-term, large-scale review of the field

Waters, Lea and Loton, Daniel ORCID: 0000-0003-4106-0555 (2021) Tracing the growth, gaps, and characteristics in positive education science: a long-term, large-scale review of the field. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. ISSN 1664-1078


This large-scale quantitative review used publication data to track the presence of positive education terms over a 100+ year period across 35 psychology journals and education journals utilizing two analytical methods. First, computer-generated linguistic word count analysis identified that positive education terms have shown small but steady growth in psychology and education research for more than a century. From 1904 to 2016, positive education terms have risen consistently, with increases in 1952, 1982, 2010, and 2014 to over 4, 5, 6, and 7 percent, respectively. Four new terms were present in the top 20 most prevalent terms following the official launch of positive education in 2009: well-being, satisfaction, motivat*, and engag* (note: terms ending with an asterisk are word stems). Three terms also increased in rank order prevalence from 2009 onwards: emotion*; health; and goal*. The second analytical method involved in-depth human coding of a subset of positive education abstracts (n=2,805) by a team of five researchers1 to identify trends pertaining to how positive education research has been conducted in terms of paradigms, designs, methods, tools, samples, and settings from 1950 to 2016. College students and students in secondary school make up the most common samples, with little research in the early childhood years. Quantitative, cross-sectional studies using self-report surveys have been the most common design and method used over the past six decades, suggesting room for growth in qualitative methods and the need for greater longitudinal and intervention designs. The human coding was also used to classify positive education variables into broader categories of research. Nine categories were identified: positive functioning; well-being; ill-being; strengths; agency; connection and belonging; identity and personality; school climate and outcomes; and demographics. By tracking positive education science over time, the current paper allows researchers to take stock of the field, identify gaps, outline areas of growth, and pursue fruitful topics for future research.

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Item type Article
DOI 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.774967
Official URL
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3901 Curriculum and pedagogy
Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3902 Education policy, sociology and philosophy
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities
Keywords quantitative data, word count analysis, positive education research, qualitative research methods
Citations in Scopus 0 - View on Scopus
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