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The project is based on the premise that there are learning activities and skills that students are already employing themselves that the institution could learn from, and either support this more effectively, or integrate some of these into our own teaching.

Students’ blending learning user patterns (BLUPs)

Institutions only know a small fraction of what students do; they only know the learning that goes on in the lecture room or seminar room. This project aims to find out something about the types of learning that happen all through students’ university life and how they create their own blends of these different types of learning.   

The framework for this mix is to consider the physical institutional environment (for instance libraries and learning commons), the physical personal environment (like cafes and homes), the virtual institutional environment (e.g. the course website or blogging tools), and the virtual personal environment (such as the use of MSN Messenger or social networking platforms such as Facebook).

The project is based on the premise that there are learning activities and skills that students are already employing themselves that the institution could learn from, and either support this more effectively, or integrate some of these into our own teaching. This is really the students teaching us how to improve our teaching.

Aims and objectives

These are the questions we are going to ask (and hopefully get answers to!)

  • What tools and environments, physical and virtual, are students using that they feel are especially useful to their learning?
  • What did they use them for, how did they combine them and how effective were they perceived to be? What other types of physical or virtual tools or environments would have been useful and why?
  • What influences their choices as to which options they select or omit (e.g. working at home or University, working with University-provided platforms or other platforms, working in virtual groups or physically-present groups)?
  • Have the students changed the way(s) they use tools and environments since commencing university? (If so, how have they managed the transition of these blends from pre-University to undergraduate study?)
  • What are their expectations of how their learning will be facilitated at university? Are these being met?
  • How could the university/department do more within these areas to facilitate the students’ preferred modes of blending of their learning?
  • How do staff and institutions draw on this information to enhance their services to students and staff/educational development?

Project methodology

We are starting the project with a literature review of what work has already been conducted in this area, and what the institutions are already doing, or might do, in this area. This should avoid us reinventing any wheels!

We are then conducting a pilot at both institutions; this will take us through the remainder of the 2006 / 07 academic year. In this pilot we will conduct interviews with around 10 students each, and use this to hone our questions and the areas we are looking at. We will also select two of these students each to work with in more depth as case studies.

Also at both sites, during the summer, we want to recruit a student to conduct their own research into this area, analysing their own process of learning and that of their immediate peers. We want to make students the central part of the process. We may even ask them to run workshops for us, to explain how they do things. Once we have all these data, we will then try and identify patterns to these blends, to build up a taxonomy of the different blending modes that are out there.

The 2007 / 08 academic year will be when we conduct our main research phase, using the outline framework and evaluation tools we have developed during the pilot phase. We will use double the amount of students, and develop some more in-depth case studies. Again, during the summer we will recruit an undergraduate to each site to undertake their own research on their own learning.

The 2008 / 09 will then be a final evaluation of the results and dissemination process. One areas we’re interested in finding more about is the field of e-learning. Particularly as the rate of technological change increases, students are developing their own skills and insights, often (we’re anticipating) in advance of what academics are aware of. However, it’s not just the teenagers coming in that will have things to tell us. Whether they’re labelled the Digital Natives, Homo Zappiens, the Net Generation or Echo Boomers they’re an important part of the picture but not the whole part. There are also the mature students, the part-time students, overseas students and a whole range of the diverse student body that will have developed their own learning blends.  We’re not making any claim that these results will be representative, our sample is too small for that, we’re instead looking for some phenomenological data that will inform our practice and our future research.

Anticipated impact

Our deliverables, will we hope, set a pattern for student engagement in pedagogical research. We hope that this project will be a model for the means to discover students’ practices as well as how to translate these into guidance for improving teaching and service delivery. The students’ use of ICT for collaborative learning is specifically something we can draw on for informing us on how to use these technologies effectively, and through our workshops, reports and guidance materials we plan to use these findings to have an impact on the rest of the HE sector.

Lead institution
Project partners
Project plan 

Project Plan (Word)

Project Staff

Project manager

Mark Childs

Project team
Project Director Warwick
Project Director Northumbria
Project team Warwick
Project team Northumbria

Documents & Multimedia

Start date
1 March 2007
End date
28 February 2009
Funding programme
e-Learning Pedagogy programme
Project website