Learning approach and perception of learning context in economics education : a causality test

Tang, Tommy & Robinson, Tim (2010) Learning approach and perception of learning context in economics education : a causality test. International Journal of Learning, 17(2), pp. 21-40.

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In the study of student learning literature, the traditional view holds that when students are faced with heavy workload, poor teaching, and content that they cannot relate to – important aspects of the learning context, they will more likely utilise the surface approach to learning due to stresses, lack of understanding and lack of perceived relevance of the content (Kreber, 2003; Lizzio, Wilson, & Simons, 2002; Ramdsen, 1989; Ramsden, 1992; Trigwell & Prosser, 1991; Vermunt, 2005). For example, in studies involving health and medical sciences students, courses that utilised student-centred, problem-based approaches to teaching and learning were found to elicit a deeper approach to learning than the teacher-centred, transmissive approach (Patel, Groen, & Norman, 1991; Sadlo & Richardson, 2003). It is generally accepted that the line of causation runs from the learning context (or rather students’ self reported data on the learning context) to students’ learning approaches. That is, it is the learning context as revealed by students’ self-reported data that elicit the associated learning behaviour.

However, other research studies also found that the same teaching and learning environment can be perceived differently by different students. In a study of students’ perceptions of assessment requirements, Sambell and McDowell (1998) found that students “are active in the reconstruction of the messages and meanings of assessment” (p. 391), and their interpretations are greatly influenced by their past experiences and motivations. In a qualitative study of Hong Kong tertiary students, Kember (2004) found that students using the surface learning approach reported heavier workload than students using the deep learning approach. According to Kember if students learn by extracting meanings from the content and making connections, they will more likely see the higher order intentions embodied in the content and the high cognitive abilities being assessed. On the other hand, if they rote-learn for the graded task, they fail to see the hierarchical relationship in the content and to connect the information. These rote-learners will tend to see the assessment as requiring memorising and regurgitation of a large amount of unconnected knowledge, which explains why they experience a high workload. Kember (2004) thus postulate that it is the learning approach that influences how students perceive workload. Campbell and her colleagues made a similar observation in their interview study of secondary students’ perceptions of teaching in the same classroom (Campbell et al., 2001). The above discussions suggest that students’ learning approaches can influence their perceptions of assessment demands and other aspects of the learning context such as relevance of content and teaching effectiveness. In other words, perceptions of elements in the teaching and learning context are endogenously determined.

This study attempted to investigate the causal relationships at the individual level between learning approaches and perceptions of the learning context in economics education. In this study, students’ learning approaches and their perceptions of the learning context were measured. The elements of the learning context investigated include: teaching effectiveness, workload and content. The authors are aware of existence of other elements of the learning context, such as generic skills, goal clarity and career preparation. These aspects, however, were not within the scope of this present study and were therefore not investigated.

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ID Code: 32550
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Economics Education, Learning Approaches, Perceptions, Learning Contexts, HERN
ISSN: 1447-9494
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ECONOMICS (140000) > OTHER ECONOMICS (149900) > Economics not elsewhere classified (149999)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Economics & Finance
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2010 Common Ground Publisher & the Authors
Copyright Statement: All rights reserved. Apart from fair use for the purposes of study, research, criticism or
review as permitted under the Copyright Act (Australia), no part of this work may be
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Deposited On: 25 Jun 2010 00:13
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2014 04:59

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