Investigating the complex, dynamic and transactional nature of child-care students' and university access students' knowledge about learning

Year: 2004

Author: Askell-Williams, Helen, Lawson, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper we propose that a tension exists between theories that tend to ascribe a disposition, or type, to any individual (such as a "deep" learner, or "mastery" oriented student) and the variable influence of contexts upon students' mental models about learning. If learning really is acquired in situation and applied in context, then we would predict differences in the manifestations of students' knowledge according to changes in contexts.

We conducted focussed interviews with child-care students and university access students about their knowledge about learning. Employing NUD*IST software and common-theme matrices to interrogate participants' responses, our analysis suggests that students' knowledge about learning is extensive and dynamic across context and time, even within the same course of instruction. By the students' accounts, poles of contemporary theoretical dichotomies (such as surface-deep, or mastery-performance) seem to operate in transaction according to specific contextual imperatives.

We propose that dichotomous or stepwise hierarchical characterisations are liable to under-represent the complexity and multi-dimensional nature of students' mental models about learning. To address this issue, we introduce the technique of creating profiles of students' knowledge across multiple learning-related variables in order to provide more precise information that can inform the design of instructional interventions intended to enhance students' knowledge about learning.