Students’ Approaches to Learning and Teachers’ Approaches to Teaching in Higher Education

This article by John T. E. Richardson (Educational Psychology, Vol 25, No 6 December 2005, pp. 673-680) looks at some the research in these two areas over the past 25 years.

Starting from the idea that students adopt different learning strategies depending on “the content, context and demands of a particular task” a number of research exercises used questionaires to develop a better understanding of what made students adopt different learning strategies. Earlier research had identified three approaches to learning:

  • Deep – based on an understanding of the meaning of the course material
  • Surface – based on memorising materials for the purposes of assessment
  • Strategic – based on obtaining the highest grades.

Some of the outcomes of the research:

  • There is a link between students perception ot the quality of a course and the approaches they adopt to the course;
  • Students have what can be classified as 5 different conceptions of learning (on a spectrum ranging from “increasing knowledge” to “understanding reality”);
  • The approach to learning adopted for any given task is linked to their conception of learning;
  • Some argue that where on the spectrum you are is related to age – ie it is an hierarchy that you procede through as you procede through education.

There is a similar model for Teaching, with some interesting findings:

  • Teachers conceptions of teaching do not appear to develop with experience;
  • There is a linkage between subject taught and conception of teaching;
  • The studies show a drift away from learner-centred teaching, towards the teacher-centred approach
  • One study suggested that teachers who adopted learner-centred approaches were more positive about their teaching context

Whilst nothing in the article suprised me on an anecdotal level, it was interesting that there was a degree of cherence between the teaching and learning in that the hierarchies of conception were in alignment with each other. For me, an interesting additional piece of research would be to look at what happens to learners who become teachers – do they carry over a similar conception of teaching to that they had as learners. If so, and if we want to have teachers with particular conceptions of teaching (eg ones that promote student-centred learning) then perhaps this might point us to testing this prior to accepting people on teacher training courses (not saying here that we should, just that we could).

I will look at my own perception of learning and teaching in future posts. I will also look at the different factors that we now understand impact on learning and teaching design.