Approaches to learning in educational psychology and mathematics: A comparative analysis in the South Pacific region

Year: 2006

Author: Phan, Huy, Deo, Bisun

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Emerging evidence has indicated that students from varying cultures and disciplines differ from each other in their approaches to learning. Two studies were conducted to examine how tertiary students at the University of the South Pacific differ in their learning approaches in subject disciplines of Educational Psychology and Mathematics. In Study I we examined learning approaches of second-year students in Educational Psychology (N = 200; 125 females, 75 males) and in Mathematics (N = 221; 94 females, 127 males) with the use of a modified version of Biggs' (1987) Study Process Questionnaire (SPQ). Analysis of results by EFA and CFA indicated a two-factor model as descriptive of student learning approaches for the Educational Psychology cohort. The two factors in this case were depicted as Meaning and Reproducing, and hence substantiating Richardson's (1994) theorisation and argument that there are two, and not three, main approaches to learning. In comparison, the Mathematics cohort results differed and showed a higher-order factor structure of student learning approaches. In Study II we used the revised version of the SPQ (SPQ-R-2F: Biggs, Kember, & Leung, 2001) to investigate the learning approaches of the same cohort of students enrolled in Educational Psychology (N = 314; 166 females, 148 males). This study revealed that students' approaches to their learning in Educational Psychology, using an alternative inventory, were also defined by two main approaches - Deep and Surface. The results from the two studies then, indicate the need to rethink and to reconceptualize the theoretical paradigm of learning approaches with reference to academic subject disciplines. They also suggest the importance of readdressing the learning inventories that are used to measure learning approaches in different subject disciplines, and to question the acceptance and universality of these learning inventories (e.g., SPQ). The results of both studies, when compared cross-culturally with other Western and non-Western findings, also indicate theoretical and pedagogical implications pertaining to culture and learning.

Key words: Approaches to learning, Cross-cultural comparison, Confirmatory factor analysis, Educational Psychology, Mathematics, South Pacific, SPQ, R-SPQ-2F, Tertiary students