The relationship between students’ subject preferences and their information behaviour

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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate the relationship between preferred choice of school subject and student information behaviour (IB). Design/methodology/approach: Mixed methods were employed. In all, 152 students, teachers and librarians participated in interviews or focus groups. In total, 1,375 students, key stage 3 (11-14 years) to postgraduate, responded to a questionnaire. The research population was drawn from eight schools, two further education colleges and three universities. Insights from the literature review and the qualitative research phase led to a hypothesis which was investigated using the questionnaire: that students studying hard subjects are less likely to engage in deep IB than students studying soft subjects. Findings: Results support the hypothesis that preferences for subjects at school affect choice of university degree. The hypothesis that a preference for hard or soft subjects affects IB is supported by results of an analysis in which like or dislike of maths/ICT is correlated with responses to the survey. Interviewees’ comments led to the proposal that academic subjects can be classified according to whether a subject helps students to acquire a “tool of the Mind” or to apply such a tool. A model suggesting how IB may differ depending on whether intellectual tools are being acquired or applied is proposed. Practical implications: The “inner logic” of certain subjects and their pedagogies appears closely linked to IB. This should be considered when developing teaching programmes. Originality/value: The findings offer a new perspective on subject classification and its association with IB, and a new model of the association between IB and tool acquisition or application is proposed, incorporating the perspectives of both teacher and student.




Madden, A. D., Webber, S., Ford, N., & Crowder, M. (2018). The relationship between students’ subject preferences and their information behaviour. Journal of Documentation, 74(4), 692–721.

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