Research of the Education and Learning Sciences Group

Via its research, the chair group Education and Learning Sciences (ELS) aims to understand the enhancing of human potential in responding to global challenges with respect to food, the environment and human well-being. As such, ELS research aims to provide added value with respect to learning and educating for responsibility, sustainability, and agency: supporting learning individuals and groups to take an active, emancipatory and engaged role in contributing to solving complex, societal problems, and doing so with attention for people, planet profit and prosperity. The university-wide focus of WUR on the domain of food and life sciences is unique in the Netherlands and provides ELS with a context that is particularly suitable for its mission. This context also creates unique conditions for focusing on learning without boundaries, learning that transcends single domains, cultures or institutional contexts. ELS wants to play a leading role with respect to its focus, both locally (at WUR), nationally as well as internationally. Rather than focusing on all possible learning outcomes of learners, ELS focuses in particular on those competencies and qualities that are relevant for responsibility, sustainability, and agency. One can think of competencies such as creativity, problem solving, acting ethically, taking a critical stance, entrepreneurship, interdisciplinarity and multicultural sensitivity, reflexivity; and of qualities such as empathy, caring and being mindful.

Research approach

Research of ELS focuses on the interfaces and transitions between education and work, and between academia and society by means of co-creation, learning and collaboration between different stakeholders or partners in learning: a wide variety of partners is included in the design, implementation, and evaluation of learning (teachers, learners, professionals, management, etc.). Rather than focusing on either learning scenarios, learning environments, learning processes or learning outcomes, ELS research focuses always on a combination of these elements, and on their interplay. ELS is interested in learning scenarios and environments that contribute to and support the development of the aforementioned competencies or qualities. Important topics and areas of ELS expertise are boundary crossing, collaborative learning, hybrid learning contexts or learning ecosystems, learning infused or enriched with ICT, and learning in authentic, rich, and complex contexts. ELS aims to understand how learning processes can be designed and understood in terms of continuing learning pathways or scenarios, and how they can be supported by materials, tools, artefacts, ICT or other sources, such as teachers, supervisors, coaches or peers and colleagues.

Research context

The context of ELS research is formed by the worlds of education and society (including the labour market and civic organizations). As far as education is concerned, ELS particularly focuses on higher education (with a specific lens on Wageningen University and the 4TU, the cooperation of Dutch technical universities), secondary education and vocational education. Often, multiple of these contexts, and in particular transitions or interfaces between contexts are the focal point. ELS research has an international orientation: not only the national context is being studied, but also international contexts, including emergent economies.

Research methods

Although research questions are leading for the choice of methods employed in ELS studies, certain theoretical foundations, designs and methods of research are more common than others. Most research uses socio-constructivism, dynamic systems theory, activity theory or self-determination as their starting point and is conducted ‘in situ’, in the authentic context, and phenomena are studied as they occur in practice. This means that much of the research can be typified as action-based or participatory, as design-based, as intervention studies or as monitoring and evaluation research. ELS research uses traditional as well as more innovative and participatory data collection methods. Research often collects data at different levels or across different time frames. More contemporary methods of data collection may include the use of apps, phones or data and analytics from Learning Management Systems (LMSes). Often, mixed methods are being used. In data analysis, traditional methods are used next to more contemporary approaches, such as multilevel modelling, agent-based modelling, dynamic systems approaches, network analyses and so on.

Short-term ambitions

There is a strong connection between ELS research and practice. Findings of ELS research are used in and contribute to the content of own and others’ educational practices, and own educational practices form the starting point for many research projects. This holds for all types of ELS education. Wherever possible, learners, students, and teachers and practitioners are partners in research, with roles in problem articulation, design, data collection and interpretation and analysis. One of the aims of ELS is to understand the innovative and unique educational ecosystem of WUR. Within and outside the WUR context, leaders, front-runners and specialists in educational innovation are often partners in research. Next, ELS research contributes to higher and secondary education, vocational and workplace practices in both the Netherlands and abroad. Because of the focus on societal challenges and the life sciences, ELS aims to conduct research with societal impact. Insights from research are not only translated into scientific publications, but also into tools, materials, procedures and other practical products that are of use to learners and practitioners.

With respect to the future of its research, ELS strives: