informal learning: methodology

A mixed-method evaluation approach was adopted for the project, including:

·         a desk-based review of literature relating to informal learning;

·         use of focus groups and interviews with staff and students; and

·         a Twitter[1]-based study of students’ informal learning activities.

The purpose of the focus groups and interviews was to elicit views on the nature and importance of informal learning within the curriculum at Sheffield Hallam, and the findings from this stage of the research are not reported directly here. A selected literature review is available insert link here, and is continuing to evolve as part of the Learning Environments agenda. The main focus of this report is therefore the data generated through the Twitter-based study.

Twitter-based study: where do you learn?

In order to develop an understanding of the spaces students use to support their informal learning activities, we decided to use the micro-blogging site Twitter. This method was chosen building on our previous experience of using reflective activity diaries (Aspden & Helm, 2004) which proved to be a valuable way of generating data. We felt that Twitter would combine the power of self-report data with the benefits of short, mobile, instantaneous communications which could be updated from a variety of devices.

To this end we recruited 15 students to take part in a 3-phase data generation excercise:

  • each participant was asked to send us regular (average = 3 per day) updates summarising their learning activities and the spaces supporting these over a 2-week period;
  • taking advantage of the fact that we could trace their updates in real-time, we selected 3 points of interest per student per week and asked for additional detail via e-mail;
  • finally each student was invited to take part in a reflective interview.

Of the 15 students who registered for the study, 12 completed it, with 3 withdrawing for personal reasons.









[1] Twitter is a micro-blogging site which allows users to update their status via text message or online – see:


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