What is the Experience Sampling Method? The Strategy for Real-Time Data Collection

The ExpiWell Team
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The experience sampling method (ESM) is the leading technique for understanding human experiences as they occur naturally in daily life. ESM real-time data collection is used to improve and edify important academic, social, corporate, and institutional problems such as, How do day-to-day emotions impact an undergraduate student’s likelihood to dropout? How do everyday environmental factors (e.g., home family size, rural/urban, transportation) determine when and how a person seeks out healthcare? How do workplace behaviors vary throughout the day and what is the impact on employee happiness? How do motivations such as purchase intention shift throughout the day based on setting—such as—time of day, mood, past purchase decisions? Experience sampling research can help you gain insight into real-life social behaviors and triggers.

An experience sampling study can answer these questions with an intimate, deep-dive into the individual experiences people face everyday in real-time, and in the real world. The result is powerful, actionable intelligence that is used equally to build groundbreaking social scientific discoveries as well as to deliver cutting-edge industry solutions.

Armed with real-time, real-world insight…

  • Social scientists can answer pioneering research questions leveraging longitudinal data that is externally valid and sensitive to individual differences. Expiwell can also be used for diary studies.
  • School administrators can tap into fluctuating emotion data and identify key moments in student life that can decrease student stress and improve overall academic persistence.
  • Healthcare teams can identify barriers in everyday life and customize healthcare delivery models that better align with how people live their lives—leading to improved health outcomes and overall better access to healthcare.
  • Corporate executives can assess daily workplace behaviors and design sophisticated employee wellbeing and performance plans tailored to increase employee happiness and productivity.
  • Product innovation and market research teams —focused on user experience—can activate consumer’s day-to-day motivation to design products that fit naturally into the daily lives of consumers.

Although the term ESM is used to describe a family of real-time data collection research methods (see ambulatory assessments, ecological momentary assessments (EMA), repeated daily diary method, journey mapping), three main fundamental elements can be found across ESM designs.

  1. First, data collection must occur in the natural environment of the participant – e.g., students walking to class, employees on a break at work, patients taking medications in their own home.
  2. Second, priority is given to experiences as they occur in real-time.
  3. Third, the participant sample must be representative of the population being studied.

At a very basic level an experience sampling study typically consist of repeated assessment across a set period of time (e.g., 3 times a day for five days, two weeks, etc.). Participants share information about their day-to-day experiences in response to some type of prompt (e.g., a push notification on a mobile phone) in their natural environment.

What are some advantages of ESM?

ESM has several advantages above and beyond status quo techniques (in other words, the old world of email, web surveys). ESM advantages include:

  • Results reflect real-world experiences because assessments are made in the natural environment. In academic terms, ESM increases external validity!
  • Lower memory bias provides a more accurate and precise look into people’s day-to-day experiences.
  • Rich multimedia data including video, audio, and imagestells a more complete story above and beyond the numbers.
  • Reduced assessment error—or the likelihood other factors get in the way of measuring experiences—given repeated measures over time.

What role does ExpiWell play?

ExpiWell is a resource for ESM exploration, innovation, and practice. As scientific leaders in the field of ESM, we at ExpiWell strive to provide researchers (or any professional driven by curiosity and innovation) with the best data collection tools for utilizing ESM best-practices in their own work. We do this primarily through our mobile app and online community data platform which enables real-time data collection, communication, and community building. We built our technology at the intersection of design and scientific expertise to ensure the best user experience for both researchers and participants.

As a team, our goal is to introduce researchers, educators, and innovators to the new era of understanding and improving human experiences.

If you're interested in experience sampling research, please reach out to us at

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