Empirical Educational Research and Digital Transformation – our Research

We conduct empirical research on education and empowerment at the intersection of informal, non-formal, and formal education in the post-digital age.

Why study Education and Empowerment in Informal and Non-Formal Settings?

Education emerges from the interaction of people and their surroundings, with the informal and non-formal spheres playing an important role (Person-Environment-Transaction approach). We investigate how analogue, digital, and hybrid educational processes in these spheres can be designed so that individuals may acquire cognitive and psychomotor competencies, a strong sense of self-efficacy and other helpful beliefs. The aim is to intertwine educational activities with the experience of competence, autonomy, and social inclusion, resulting in functional characteristic adaptations in the context of personal development.

In addition to determinants of empowerment on the individual side, we also examine preconditions for empowerment on the environmental side. The question is how people across their lifespan may collectively find the courage and strength to use their own understanding without another’s guidance and take control of their lives together. This may help them to confidently work together towards achieving shared goals, such as those related to sustainability, and at the same time meet their personal goals. We explore how children, adolescents, and adults can successfully network, in person or digitally, beyond family and friends, to advance society as a whole. This often goes along with a particular focus on rural areas, where those processes can make a substantial difference to regional development.

We study informal and non-formal education processes and their relations to formal education. Here, learners are understood to be responsible for their own educational process to a greater extent than in the formal sector. Moreover, the success criteria of empowerment can be explored here without major constraints from external specifications such as curricula. In particular, our research in this area focuses on the possibilities offered by the use of digital technology under control of the learners, beyond platform-based business models. Consistent with the concept of a post-digital society, we do not consider the impact of digital technology separately. Rather, the impact of various digital frameworks is integral to all of our research.

Why Empirical?

Important findings in the social sciences have been based on quantitative and qualitative empirical research. Examples include research on the effects of economic crises on development over the lifespan (Elder, 1974), evidence on the effectiveness of various personnel selection procedures (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998), or research on teaching practices in schools (Klieme et al., 2009). We use both quantitative methods (such as multilevel and structural equation modelling) and qualitative methods to study education and empowerment processes in the context of the digital transformation of society. In our research, the two approaches are integrated in mixed-methods frameworks. Regarding data collection, we go beyond conventional questionnaires and interviews and apply performance tests and computer-simulated problem-solving scenarios to assess competencies as well as behavioural traces and perspective physiological parameters. In addition, we use methods from the field of Data Science/Big Data to (a) conduct broad yet systematic research syntheses, (b) analyze qualitative interviews, and (c) design digital applications for education and empowerment. The various methodological approaches all contribute to the success of our projects, resulting in a research strategy that spans the entire spectrum from cross-sectional and longitudinal studies to controlled field experiments and interventions. Strategically, the various methodological approaches are embedded in a design-based approach aiming at an efficient development of ecologically valid and robust interventions. Our findings inform the further improvement of theoretical frameworks as well as the development of intervention designs for real-world use. The described empirical approach to researching education and empowerment in the post-digital age informs our projects in the following thematic clusters:

  1. STEM education
  2. Arts, aesthetic and cultural education
  3. Language education

Depending on the project, there may be a particular content focus on rural areas and a particular methodological focus on the application of research synthesis and Data Science/Big Data methods. Moreover, in many of our projects, we also consider Cross-curricular competencies and characteristic adaptations.

Throughout all of our research, we emphasize the co-creative participation of citizens and practitioners via Citizen Science and the disclosure of materials, approaches, and data through Open Science, publication via Open Access, and disclosure of contributions from multiple authors via the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT). Along the same lines, some of us (currently: Stephan Kröner) only act as reviewers for journal papers that will be made available open access, including full materials in a way that is sufficient to ensure reproducability (especially: not involving non-disclosure of item wording, e.g due to copyright issues). Moreover, starting with 2024, all our journal publications undergo a review regarding reproducibility by a member of our team that has not been involved in the publication of the paper.