A study of learning in economics

Tang, Tommy Yin (2008) A study of learning in economics. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis reports on a research program to study learning in economics utilising non-traditional research methodology. The study aimed to achieve four inter-related objectives. Research in other disciplines (Meyer and Cleary, 1998; Meyer and Eley, 1999; Eley and Meyer, 2004) show that there are important factors influencing learning that are unique to the discourse of a discipline. The first objective of this study was to construct an instrument that captured students' cognitive ability that was specific to learning in economics. The psychometric properties and validity of this construct (called economic thinking ability), and the influence of students' pre-course economic thinking on their learning approaches and academic performance were investigated.

Traditional economics education research typically utilises a single end-of-semester score as a measure of learning output. This research program utilised multiple measures of academic performance. By investigating the determinants of academic performance in three assessment types commonly used in introductory economics, namely essay assignment, multiple choice question (MCQ) exam and exam essay, it examined the limitations of the traditional single-score approach.

Most traditional input-output learning models in economics education bypass the learning 'black box' (Shanahan et al., 1997), which is the learning approach the student utilises. The third objective of the research program was to construct a learning approach instrument that was sensitive to different assessment contexts so as to investigate the mechanism by which the learning inputs influenced academic performance in economics. This research program also measured students' general learning approaches for assessments utilised before the commencement of their economics unit, and investigated the stability and changes of learning approaches.

Based on empirical research evidence and survey findings, it has been observed that many economics students do not possess the ability to apply economic concepts in real world situations. The fourth objective of this research program was to explore the issue of knowledge transfer in economics education. To investigate this issue, students' economic thinking ability was examined at the end of the course using both quantitative and qualitative methodology.

The key findings obtained from this research program are:

The discipline-specific construct of economic thinking ability possesses sound psychometric properties and predictive validity. Students' pre-course economic thinking ability was found to measure cognitive ability different from pre-course academic aptitude and have important effects on learning approaches.

The determinants of academic performance were shown to be assessment specific. This observation provides an explanation of the inconsistency of findings by the traditional input-output approach that utilises a single measure of learning output in economics education.

By examining the mediating role of learning approaches in the learning process, it was found that there were important differences in the mechanism by which different personal learning inputs impacted on academic performance in different assessment contexts.

Lastly academic performance and post-course economic thinking ability were found to measure different dimensions of learning outcome. The thesis concluded that economics education as investigated in this research program focused mainly on acquisition and reproduction of knowledge and technical skills in routine academic situations rather than making connections of economic concepts to real world experiences.

Implications for teaching and further research in economics education were also discussed in this thesis.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 16691
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Robinson, Timothy & Boulton-Lewis, Gillian
Keywords: economics education, student learning, knowledge transfer, learning outcome, learning process, assessment
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Economics & Finance
Department: Faculty of Business
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Tommy Yin Tang
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:08
Last Modified: 22 Feb 2013 04:55

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