APPLE: Analytics for profiling and promoting learners’ epistemologies

by bethanyaldenrivers

Investigating learners’ epistemological beliefs has been driven by the notion that a learner’s way of knowing is an important factor influencing their higher education experience (Richardson, 2013). Frameworks for understanding learners’ epistemologies have been proposed over the last 50 years. Even so, there is still a call for universities to care more about developing learners’ epistemologies (Lucas & Tan, 2013).

In conventional learning environments, learners’ ways of knowing may be understood through interactions and rapport-building with individual students. However, in an online learning environment, this information may be difficult to capture due to the transactional distance of the learners and teachers.

The Knowing and Reasoning Inventory (KARI)

The initial version of the analytical tool was constructed as a 35-question web survey and included features of existing epistemological development frameworks (i.e. Kuhn’s (1990) scale of reasoning and Baxter Magolda’s (1992) ways of knowing. Surveys were completed by 77 students at the UK University of Northampton. Findings showed that the two sets of questions (i.e. those related to Kuhn and Baxter Magolda, respectively), each had high internal reliability. Through factor analysis, four constructs were found for the ‘Knowing’ questions and 2 possible constructs were identified for the ‘Reasoning’ questions.

Finding from the first phase of testing were presented at the Higher Education Academy’s Annual Conference 2014. Slides from this presentation can be found here.


Learning Design for Threshold Concepts: can the KARI help us?

Findings from the first phase of KARI testing were meant to inform subsequent phases of the APPLE project. Specifically, the aim is to explore personalised visualisations and pedagogic uses, such as curriculum mapping, for these analytics.

A study of 10 faculty and staff from the University of Northampton explored how KARI profiles may support personalised learning design. Importantly, the study was designed to test how KARI profiles might support students’ conceptual development. Themes that came from this study included:

1. ‘Threshold concept’ is a threshold concept for some faculty and staff.

2. There is a perception that learning is designed for the cohort, rather than the individual.

3. Visualisations of data need to be more meaningful.

Findings from this study were presented at the Higher Education Close Up 7 Conference in Lancaster in July 2014. Slides from this presentation can be found here.

For the full paper, see:

Alden Rivers, B. and Richardson, J. T. E. (2014) ‘Exploring data-driven learning design for negotiating troublesome concepts’, paper presented at the Higher Education Close Up 7 Conference, University of Lancaster, Lancaster, July 2014.

Would you like to use the KARI to carry out a practice-based study exploring the use of learners’ epistemological profiles? Please get in touch!




Baxter Magolda, M. (1992) Knowing and Reasoning in College: Gender-Related Patterns in Students’ Intellectual Development, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

King, P. and Kitchener, K. (1994) Developing Reflective Judgement, San-Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Kuhn, D. (1991) The Skills of Argument, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Lucas, U. and Tan, P. L. (2013) ‘Developing a capacity to engage in critical reflection: students’ ‘ways of knowing’ within an undergraduate business and accounting programme’, Studies in Higher Education, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 104-123.

Perry, W. G. (1970) Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A scheme, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

Richardson, J. T. E. (2013) ‘Epistemological development in higher education’, Educational Research Review, vol. 9, pp. 191-206.