Looking for “Informed” Learning in the Undergraduate Classroom


Published: October 28, 2013 by Dr. Kristen Rebmann

Kristen RebmannCan faculty-driven interventions support information literacy (IL) learning in the undergraduate classroom? For researchers and practitioners in LIS, the answer that quickly comes to mind is “of course!” But, what do we really know about the most effective ways to go about creating rich learning contexts supportive of IL?

Recent research emphasizes the need for the design of educational contexts where students learn to use information while simultaneously pursuing discipline-focused learning outcomes (Andretta, 2007; Limberg, 2008; Lloyd & Williamson, 2008; Lupton, 2008; Webber & Johnson, 2000). Bruce (2008) suggests that informed learning, a pedagogy that focuses on learning subject content through engagements with academic or professional information practices, represents one promising approach: a framework that emphasizes both information use and subject content.

Can we observe an informed learning approach to learning design for information literacy? One place to look is by observing faculty who structure course lessons and assignments that engage students in learning subject content through engagements with academic or professionalized information practices.

Our research team collaborated during the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013 on a study that attempted to chart informed learning design in the undergraduate classroom. The study focuses on one case of a faculty member who created course lessons and assignments designed to teach students to use information and subject content simultaneously. The teacher’s intent was to get the students to think critically about a language and gender-related topic by tracing the influence of a particular scholar rather than using what she referred to as a “standard” approach to research, in which one takes a stance early in the process and then seeks evidence to support an already existing view.

We studied this faculty member’s efforts by employing phenomenographic methods to investigate students’ experiences of the classroom lesson that introducing the students to this approach of understanding a topic through research. Variation theory helped us analyze subsequent student interviews – making visible differing student experiences of the faculty member’s lectures and other teaching strategies.

Among our findings:

  • Aspects of informed learning, the critical fusion of information and use and subject content toward new understandings and competencies, were observable in some of the students’ experiences.
  • Other students emphasized information use but not subject content.

An article reporting on our complete findings appeared in the July 2013 issue of Library & Information Science Research:

Maybee, C., Bruce, C., Lupton, M., & Rebmann, K. (2013), Using Information to Learn: Informed learning in the higher education classroom. Library & Information Science Research 35(2013) 200–206.

Clarence Maybee

Part one of the study made visible existing experiences of informed learning by exploring different ways students understood classroom interactions focused on intentionally using information to learn about a language and gender topic. Clarence Maybee has collected additional data and is currently tackling a second round of analyses with the goal of further exploring student experiences of informed learning, but also examining the experience of the teacher.

With an aim of informing effective informed learning lesson design, the second phase of the project will expand to examine the relationship of the teacher’s intentions for informed learning, the interactions between the teacher and students in the classroom, and the students’ experiences following the informed learning lessons. Stay tuned for additional findings to emerge in the spring of 2014!