Developing Effective Bite Sized Staff Development Through Thematic Analysis


  • Colin Gray Abertay University



work based learning, online learning, thematic analysis, coding, bite sized learning


This paper aims to investigate an emerging method for delivering online learning for the purposes of staff development. This teaching method, named Bite Sized Learning (BSL), is based on the following principles: 1. Course length is short, around one or two weeks. 2. One task is delivered each day. 3. Tasks are short, around 30 minutes. The intention of BSL is to meet the commonly cited needs of work based learners – flexibility in time, place and mode of consumption – and enable more accessible and more effective staff development in higher education. To this end, BSL is underpinned by research in work based learning, just in time learning, communities of practice and human attention spans.

This study relates to a qualitative study carried out on a series of BSL courses, delivered to academic staff at Edinburgh Napier from 2012 to 2014. Staff members took part in four instances of the course and were asked for feedback on their experience. A thematic analysis process was carried out on this feedback in order to determine the effectiveness of BSL, the advantages it brings and ways in which it can be developed.

Thematic analysis showed that BSL was very well received by participants and that it carries a number of advantages over traditional one-block methods of staff development. Evidence is presented to show that BSL enables effective learning and allows academic staff to participate in development when they otherwise could not. The daily delivery format was found to increase the priority of online learning and build motivation to complete each task, while keeping the tasks short and focused reduced the mental barriers to students in beginning the work.

The analysis forms the basis for a BSL model of learning, and avenues of future development are proposed.

Author Biography

Colin Gray, Abertay University

PHD student in the School of Arts, Media and Computer Games, researching online work based learning.


Avison, D. E., Lau, F., Myers, M. D., & Nielsen, P. A. (1999). Action research. Communications of the ACM, 42(1), 94–97.


Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.


Brennan, L. (2005). Integrating work-based learning into higher education – A guide to good practice. Bolton: University Vocational Awards Council.

Gray, C. (2015). Exploring measures of engagement in open online work based learning. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Gray, D. (2001). A briefing on work-based learning. Learning and Teaching Support Network Generic Centre, Assessment Series No. 11. Retrieved from

Kirkpatrick, D., & Kirkpatrick, J. (2006). Evaluating training programs: The four levels (3rd ed). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.


Nie, M., Armellini, A., Witthaus, G., & Barklamb, K. (2011). How do e‐book readers enhance learning opportunities for distance work‐based learners? Research in Learning Technology, 19(1), 19–38.


Pike, R. (1994). Creative training techniques handbook (2nd ed.). Minneapolis: Lakewood Books.

Saldaña, J. (2009). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Los Angeles, Calif: Sage.

Simkins, S., & Maier, M. (Eds.). (2009). Just-in-time teaching across the disciplines and across the academy (New pedagogies and practices for teaching in higher education). Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Tuckett, A. G. (2005). Applying thematic analysis theory to practice: A researcher’s experience. Contemporary Nurse, 19(1–2), 75–87.


Twigg, C. A. (2003). Improving learning and reducing costs: New models for online Learning. EDUCAUSE Review, 38(5), 28–38.

Wisker, G. (2001). The postgraduate research handbook: Succeed with your MA, MPhil, EdD and PhD. Basingstoke: Palgrave.






Aspects of CPD Opportunities for Staff