• Project


Research questions

The study aims to address the following research questions:

  1. What is the educational rationale for integrating formal and informal learning supported by e-tools?
  2. What examples of such integration exist within research and practice worldwide?
  3. What are the drivers and barriers to the integration of informal and formal learning activities with e-tools?
  4. How might we map the integration of formal and informal learning supported by e-tools in higher education curricula?
  5. What guidelines and recommendations might be made to policy makers, institutional managers, and teachers about the integration of formal and informal learning supported by e-tools?


Formal and informal learning have been viewed as competing paradigms. However, students are increasingly adopting the tools and strategies for informal learning within formalised educational settings. Potential affordances of this integration have been largely unexplored and there is little evidence base to draw upon. This project will address this issue by providing an educational rationale for integrating formal and informal learning supported by electronic tools. This will be achieved by exploring informal practices of students in Higher Education and examining ways in which they use e-tools such as mobile phones, digital cameras, ipods, computer games, internet, blogs, WAP and wireless technologies. Barriers and enablers, as well as examples of such integration within international research and practice will be identified.

The project will build on and extend a previous, preliminary study by identifying principles and conditions that help teachers, managers and student support services in HE link informal and formal learning and build on students’ independence in using ICT for informal learning. The study will not be limited to hardware tools but will also include software environments with their own tools that support learning and communication.

A series of interviews and focus groups with students and staff in higher education institutions will elucidate practical drivers and barriers to the integration of formal and informal learning supported by e-tools. These investigations will be carried out in two different disciplines (social work and engineering) in two contrasting institutions (pre-1992: University of Strathclyde and post-1992: Glasgow Caledonian University). The focus groups will involve 40 third-year students in these disciplines at each of these two Universities. In addition, twenty staff will be interviewed, including teachers in social work and engineering, managers and support staff at the Universities.

Subsequently, case studies illustrating how to integrate formal and informal learning supported by e-tools will be developed, using a blend of published scenarios and the focus group and interview findings. Finally, the findings and outcomes of the study will be synthesised and guidelines and recommendations to staff and senior managers will be developed.

This project would impact current thinking and policy in four main ways. Firstly, a typology of barriers and drivers to integration of formal and informal learning using e-tools will be developed. This typology will be an essential component in future curriculum planning. It will embody a conceptual framework to help stakeholders understand the complex set of variables that need to be taken into account in planning and implementation of courses linking formal and informal learning. From this, strategies for encouraging student independence in formal settings can be implemented, bridging the formal-informal nexus.

Secondly, the case studies will be important in illustrating potential to practitioners and HE managers. They will be made available on the HEA website. Wider community dialogue and expert commentaries will be invited via a WIKI on the HEA website.

Thirdly, policy guidelines and recommendations to inform implementation of e-tools to support formal and informal learning in education will be disseminated. The guidelines and recommendations will support staff and senior managers in higher education institutions who are shaping and implementing curriculum processes and support strategies that build on students’ independence in the informal learning domain.

Fourthly, all outcomes will be summarised in a scholarly publication in an international peer-reviewed journal (see Project dissemination and impact).