Using Focus Groups and contextual factors

As Learning Layers aims at supporting and proceeding informal learning practices at the workplaces of the application partners, the future end user is always in the center of attention. To have an efficient and useful informal learning solution result, tailored for a consistent daily appliance, the primary focus lies within capturing end user’s concrete knowledge demands, working conditions and true system requirements. Therefore the design teams begin with gaining a profound understanding of how the potential users currently solve their learning demands and knowledge gaps to conclude on future integration of particular system demands

UIBK performed a study employing focus group interviews in the specific sectors of the application partners – in the construction as well as in the healthcare sector. Each focus group validated one out of a number of predefined initial user stories which were richly described with actors from multiple organizations, physical objects, goals, courses of actions and learning outcomes. Key informants from healthcare as well as from construction provided these initial sketches for user stories to inform and share with us their past experiences. UIBK used a template adapted from (Hädrich, 2008) intended to describe knowledge actions on the basis of key elements taken from activity theory (Engeström, 2000).

This starts out with describing an occasion, i.e. the situation at hand in which some form of learning starts. As we focus on workers interacting with physical objects, it is important to describe the whereabouts of the physical context, e.g., what tools are of significance, what people are present. Sometimes, that might even mean to describe a course of actions that typically triggers such an occasion. The central element is the sequence of activities performed in the described learning situation resulting in learning outcomes which denote the final state the actors are in. Representatives of professional user groups developed in total 14 user stories, six from health care and eight from construction, based on their experiences within the sector, informal talks and semi-structured interviews. These initial user stories were written up and visualized applying the template discussed above. Both, text and visualizations were sent to participants of focus groups in advance. Focus group interviews represent ways to listen to people, learn from the targeted population and generate a rich understanding of the participants’ experiences and beliefs (Morgan, 1998), as necessary for the design teams upcoming developments. There are typically three to twelve participants who are usually similar to each other with respect to their background or interest in the topic (Rogelberg, 2004). A moderator guided and facilitated the focus groups following a predefined procedure, so that the discussions stay focused. He is also needed as not every person has the linguistic competence to clarify their position, especially when others in the group are more dominant (Liebig and Nentwig-Gesemann, 2009).

Table 1 shows some demographics on participants of the focus group interview in the construction sector which took place in January 2013 in Germany and was video recorded, and the health care sector which took place in February 2013 in the UK and was audio recorded.

Table 1. Sample of focus groups

Construction sector Health care sector
Number of participants



Duration in minutes



Min. years of prof experience



Avg. years of prof experience




The focus group interviews built up on the summarizing visualizations of user stories (available here for partners and stakeholders). The participants received the visualizations of user stories about four days in advance and were asked to read them so that they could prioritize them in the beginning of the focus group interview which then concentrated on one or a small number of selected user stories. After explaining details on the focus group interview’s goals and contents, we explicitly asked interviewees not to abstract and to stay as specific as possible in reproducing their learning practices. We aimed at an open, freely speaking atmosphere to have the interviewees express their difficulties and preferences in approaching learning situations at work without hesitation or embellishment. A more informal round of introductions also contributed to a loose ambience and triggered quite active participation from beginning on. At last it depend on how much experiences and reproduced work scenarios the key informants would share with us, for us to absorb a vivid picture of their daily work learning environment.

Three contextual factors were identifiable from the analysis of the focus group interviews data, reflecting the most interesting and, moreover, common aspects of all of focus group discussions. The recognizable similarities in learning barriers are to emphasize as these illustrate essential factors to be taken into account by the design teams. For the presentation and clarification of these draft patterns and contextual factors as well as representing the idea behind them, visualizations in form of posters were designed. These posters are thought to visually represent results from the analysis of focus group interviews which are to be shown to the consortium members at the Design Conference (3rd – 6th of March 2013) in Helsinki. On the basis of these posters, videos as well as textual representations, general learning situations and challenges are explicable to the design teams. As these give an abstract, overall insight to the selected patterns of both sectors of investigation the employees are confronted with, important daily work learning situations can be brought forth. At the Design Conference clarification is aimed at in terms of seeking agreement and own impressions by the consortium members. These posters are intended to trigger cross-sector discussions about relevant aspects of user stories and should not be seen as their replacement.

Contextual Factor 1: “Responsibility Shift”

responsibility shift LAYERS

The video for contextual factors “Responsibility shift” is available at:

Contextual Factor 2: “Triangulation”


The video for contextual factors “Triangulation” is available at:

Contextual Factor 3: “Validation Seeking”


The video for contextual factors “Validation Seeking” is available at:


  • Engeström, Y. 2000. Activity theory as a framework for analyzing and redisigning work. Ergonomics 43, 960-974.
  • Hädrich, T. 2008. Situation-oriented Provision of Knowledge Services. In Information Systems University of Halle-Wittenberg, Halle(Saale), Germany.
  • Liebig, B. andNentwig-Gesemann, I. 2009. Gruppendiskussion, S. KÜHL, P. STRODTHOLZ AND A. TAFFERTSHOFER Eds. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
  • Morgan, D.L. 1998. The Focus Group Guidebook 1. The Focus Group Kit. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA, London, UK; New Dehli, India.
  • Rogelberg, S.G. 2004. Handbook of Research Methods in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK.

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