Changes in approaching to learning: A qualitative investigation of international students in an Australian university

Year: 2002

Author: Gordon, Mira

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper reports on a study into the approaches to learning and changes in approaches to learning of a group of 30 international students studying at an Australian university. The study continued for a three year period commencing with the students enrolment in a one year pre tertiary program until the students completed their second year of undergraduate study.

The students were asked to respond to three categories of questions; the first category relating to the general meaning of terms and conceptions of understanding; the second to broad approaches to learning within the student's particular learning situation and the final category of questions related to individual approaches to studying for major examinations and approaches to completing major assignments.

It was found that students did not necessarily construct knowledge in the same way. This may have a cultural basis. That the construction of knowledge may not necessarily be universal is consistent with other research evidence (Kember et al., 1997). Transcripts of student interviews also suggests that a number of broad orientations to learning can be identified. These approaches could be characterised as holistic/deep; serialist/deep; holistic/surface and serialist/surface.

In general, while most students expressed willingness to adjust their particular approaches to specific tasks, their beliefs about knowledge and learning were found to be relatively stable over time. The conclusion from this is that while students are willing to adjust their learning to particular task, this is within the framework of the broad approaches to learning available to them. The evidence from this research suggests that there are differential rates of change occurring in student learning; changes in approaches to specific tasks would appear to occur more readily than overall orientations to learning. It would also appear that some students, in particular those who identified as holistic/deep learners, are more willing to consider adjusting their learning strategies than other types of learners.

While the categories identified in this study use different terminology, it is possible to equate them with Kember's (2001) recent research findings on student orientations to learning. These finding also support Kember's conclusions that a student's epistemological beliefs coupled with learning approaches should be considered when assisting students to make the transition to tertiary study.