H800 Reading Richardson: Students??? approaches to learning and teachers??? approaches to teaching in higher education???.


Week 12, A2, on H800 asked us to read “Students’ approaches to learning and teachers’ approaches to teaching in higher education’ by Richardson, written in 2005 and answer some questions. This post serves as a record of my thoughts on reading the article. The next post will record the discussion questions.

Summary of Richardson’s argument:

As regards students’ approach to learning: The initial thrust of Richardson’s argument is that module design may have an impact on type of studying that happens (deep, shallow, strategic) but also students’ perceptions affects this and is independent of module design, so some interventions (module design) have proven to be ineffectual.

However, he posits that students with the same perceptions of their course also display different approaches to studying and that possibly this relates to their conception of learning and of themselves as learners.

This provides another reason why educational interventions may be of limited effectiveness: students who hold a reproductive conception of learning through exposure to a subject-based curriculum may simply
find it hard to adapt to a more student-centred curriculum (e.g., Newman, 2004).

He also discusses ways of characterising notions or levels of learning, using Säljö’s (1979) five different
conceptions, and seems to make the argument that students move through these levels in the form of a hierarchy.

Criticisms of Richardson’s argument, as suggested by himself in the module discussion, include the notion that correlation (links or relationships) between variables do not imply causation.

As regards teachers’ approach to teaching, Richardson says that a more student-focussed approach to teaching leads to a deeper learning approach by students. Teacher’s perceptions are also important in informing their approaches to teaching and that

teachers who adopted a student-focused approach were more likely than teachers
who adopted a teacher-focused approach to report that their departments valued
teaching, that their class sizes were not too large, and that they had control over what
was taught and how it was taught.

Richardson’s posits a number of different theories as to what informs teachers’ approach to teaching and the research appears to be quite mixed and that ‘different teachers still adopt different approaches to teaching.’ In some cases, different teaching approaches might be due to underlying conceptions about what teaching is, but even where teachers have a more student-centric teaching belief, this does not necessarily translate into a more student-centred approach. He also addresses the issue of change over time and says there is , ‘little evidence that teachers’ conceptions of teaching really do develop with increasing teaching experience (Norton, Richardson, Hartley, Newstead, & Mayes, 2005).

Richardson offers criticisms of this section in that it is not really analysing how teacher’s approaches may change over time and what factors influence this.

I found that reading this paper offered a speciously comfortable view of how students approaches to learning might be influenced, but realise that the point of reading this is to question how research can be presented. Even empirical research can be interpreted in a number of ways. What also struck me was the difficulty in dealing with some 25 years of research and trying to extrapolate patterns across such a wide scope. The paper asked more questions than it answered, but I think that was the whole point.




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