The learning behaviours of university students
In the sudden pivot to remote learning, it was assumed that mass quantities of new content is being rapidly created and delivered to students. Content is assumed to be organized and distributed on a variety of platforms.
For students then, the cognitive burden is placed on them to learn various learning tools.
This diary study tested the following assumptions. Five 3rd year university students participated in a 3 week study. Students were asked to record how they currently access and organize content, followed by how they might use an educational software as an alternative to organize content.
New content is rapidly produced and delivered to students
Various platforms are used to distribute content
Students are burdened with the need to learn new tools and platforms
Multiple platforms and tools must be used in order to successfully achieve academic goals
The provided educational software will remove the above burdens for students
Understand student’s current workflow, including:
How do students find information to achieve their academic goals.
How do students organize the information found.
How do students communicate and coordinate school-related information with one another.
Understand student’s workflow with the educational software
How do students navigate successfully achieving academic goals?
What are some of their academic goals?
What are the mechanisms that they use to achieve their academic goal?
What (if any) are students' current process to organize instructor’s content?
What are students' current process when trying to learn something asynchronously?
How does the provided educational software augment that experience?
Do students use it?
When do students use it?
What are their expectations of the tool?
Do students enjoy using the tool
The study was conducted in three parts:
Thirty minute unled user interview using the Practical Empathy method. Listening session goals:
To understand participant academic goals and work conducted to achieve these goals
To learn their tools or strategies used to achieve their academic goals
Semi-structured diary study:
Week one: Structured diary entries with focus on students' current method of accessing and organizing content.
Week two: Educational software introduced. Diary studies focused on reactions to specific tasks and functions within the software.
Week three: Unstructured diary entries. Students asked to use whichever tool they feel is best for their needs.
Thirty-minute semi-structured interview. Listening session goals:
To clarify outstanding questions
Debrief with participants on their experience
Summary of Findings
Learning workflow of diary participants. Partial workflow seen above. Major steps include:
Project and time management
Retain and understand information
Participants used a variety of strategies to achieve their academic goal. Steps were consolidated into a learning workflow.
Step 1: Gather information
Participates noted their information gathering behaviours which they used when determining how they will structure their learning. Examples of these behaviours include:
Approaching support networks
Compiling course deadlines
Continuous information gathering throughout the term through unstructured communication systems
Step 2: Project and time management
During the course of this study, all participants used some type of project or time management technique, with a few sharing a change in their organizational strategy when their workload increased.
Step 3: Retain and understand information
All participants used a variety of methods to retain and understand their course material. Examples of these behaviours include:
Physical act of writing as part of their learning process
Applying course concepts to a case study
Daily skimming lecture notes and videos to keep concepts fresh in their minds
Based on participant learning behaviours, their workflow and process to retain and understand information, suggestions were provided to the educational software team on functions develop for future releases, design considerations on for the platform itself, and potential areas for future research.
The company altered its roadmap from a broad focus with competing functions and narrowed its focus to more closely align to student needs and on what worked best for students based on the study results.
Return to the Research Portfolio page or view another case study: Report a Problem, Use of the Library's Lobby, or Focus Group