Approaches to learning and studying in psychology: A revised perspective

Year: 2001

Author: Najar, Robyn, Davis, Kerrie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper discusses the first 18 months of a three-year investigation into differences in learning styles of students in psychology. Bigg's (1987) Study Process Questionnaire (SPQ) was administered 1st and 2nd semesters to first-year psychology students and repeated semester 2 in the following year (n=181). At this stage both cross-sectional and longitudinal effects have been examined. The greatest change in approaches to learning occurred between the first and second administrations of the SPQ. Longitudinal data from a sub-sample of 64 students showed a significant improvement in Deep Approach, Achieving Approach and Deep Achieving Approach scores. However, this was not reflected in the cross-sectional data, which suggested a decline. Additionally, the observed differences in gender (cf. Wilson, Smart & Watson, 1996), year level and type of degree were not found to be significantly related to levels of processing or motivation as measured by the SPQ. In conclusion, the data suggests that a dichotomous approach (deep/surface) to learning is overly simplistic and that it is essential to consider the context of study, such as the task at hand, in evaluating approaches to learning (Fogarty & Taylor, 1997). If this is the case, then we need to revise our theoretical approach to embrace a framework such as transfer appropriate processing (Dyne, Taylor & Boulton-Lewis, 1994) as a more meaningful way to understand student learning in higher education.