H800: discussion on Richardson’s ‘Students??? approaches to learning and teachers??? approaches to teaching’



Some discussion in response to guided questions for Week 12, A2 following reading and summary of Richardson’s ‘Students’ approaches to learning and teachers’ approaches to teaching’:

Do you think the innovations described in Weeks 8 and 9 as ‘learning design’ would induce more desirable approaches to studying on the part of the students?

The theory or premise is that learning design may  promote desirable approaches to studying by the nature of what students are asked to do. According to Richardson’s evidence it might do if it helps to change perceptions of learning to one that is deeper. Learning Design as outlined by Beetham (2007) focus on activities rather than tasks and provide alternative approaches through material and in offering different forms of representation. The type of activity design would seem to imply or promote a particular learning approach e.g. a task to search for information suggests a more learner-centred approach.

However, according to Richardson’s research, the learning designs  would induce more desirable approaches  only if they applied to students whose perceptions of learning are (already) deep, or if the activities can help foster this kind of approach. For example, within the design of activities, the existence of options and choices or of activities that promote a more learner-centred approach such as peer review or group work. Asking students to choose might in itself help make the process for learner-centred.

So, yes the nature and options within learning design could ‘induce more desirable approaches’ but there is no guarantee as there may not be much control over other factors (such a students’ own perceptions).

Compare Marton’s idea that some students regard learning as something that just happens to them with Sfard’s account that you read in Week 3.

Marton’s idea implies a very passive approach to learning and one that I have experienced where a student just sits back and expects something to be poured into him/her. Perhaps Sfard’s idea of acquisition in terms of an ’empty vessel’ seems to be similar, although Sfard’s learning metaphors (both acquisition and participation) do seem to suggest that more active learning is taking place. It’s the difference between learning as a verb (Sfard) and learning as being done to someone (Marton).

A valid question is whether Marton’s idea of learning should be considered as ‘learning’ at all. Even the activity of a quiz or a test involves having to do something on the part of the student!

Do the concepts, theories and evidence described in my [Richardson’s] paper fit your own experience as a learner?

I hadn’t really considered that my own perceptions of learning would affect my approach to it directly. I would have thought that a well designed module and or/activities would be interesting enough to allow for deep learning or the type of learning that is required at that point, which may well be of a shallow kind. What this means is that I trust the module designer ‘s expertise to overide any notions of learning that I might have.

However, what seems to be missing here and which heavily informs my experince is the notion of strategy and student choice, rather than a rather deterministic approach to how students and teachers will behave. Perhaps students would like to partake in deep learning, but the constraints of time and learning might mean that they choose to take a more strategic approach that means that in some cases, shallow learning will do – either to get through the required stage or to meet the specious requirement. Richardson mentions strategy, but he doesn’t expand on this. Taking a strategic approach to learning aligns with Brown et al (1989), where students outside of an actual and situated context learn about “going to school” rather than the subject itself and learn the techniques required to operate within the system.

As to my own experience as a learner, I think I flit about the learning approaches; I’d like to be able to be at the deeper end of learning, but sometimes I have to make the decision that a shallower approach is initially needed. To that end, the trajectory of learning and relevance of age and stage of learning resonated with me. I am a more committed and goal-oriented learner now than for my first degree.

Which of Säljö’s five conceptions of learning best fits your own definition?

Apart from ‘learning as memorising’ I see merit in the other conceptions. I’d probably be at the ‘learning as  abstraction of meaning’ and ‘learning as an interpretative process” depending on what I need to do at any point (and therefore what I need to learn to do it!). I think it is difficult to stick to any one conception as a ‘true’ definition of learning thus echoing Richardson’s argument there is rarely ‘truth’ to be found in social sciences/humanities, but potentially interesting applications.



4 thoughts on “H800: discussion on Richardson’s ‘Students??? approaches to learning and teachers??? approaches to teaching’

  1. Learning design may promote more desirable learning approaches, but only if students’ approaches to learning are compatible (e.g. open to deep learning). But how do we affect students’ approaches to learning then? I would think by… appropriate learning design?

  2. That’s a crucial point Stefaanvw. I don’t know. Can the learning design by itself affect the students’ approaches to learning (if they don’t already have deep learning attitudes based on what learning is/could be). I think it is putting a lot of onus on the learning design. In my experience, working with groups of teachers and learners, possibly over time it might. I was interested in one of the things about generations that came out of Richardson’s theory: that younger people tended to have shallower learning habits? Might experience play a part? Or that you have to go through a learning trajectory to get to deeper learning?

  3. I am interested in the idea that younger people have shallower learning habits. I wonder if it could be that maturity brings a greater discernment about what is studied and therefore more interest and involvement in the learning. Also life experience is more likely to develop a knowledge of the benefits of learning.

  4. Yes, it is all rather of a conjecture as to why learning habits develop with age. One the one hand, experience and maturity in going through a learning trajectory, and on the other hand desire and drive possibly due to a range of factors (self-funding, specific career goals, or alternatively a freedom to learn for the sake of it rather than pass exams which may mean deeper learning).My own personal experience is that I now understand the benefits of learning and take a broader view, which seems to come from life experiences and an appreciation that opportunities for formal learning don’t come that often, so I should make the most of it. But there is a danger in using just one’s personal experience.

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