Student Conceptions of Learning and the Approaches to Learning Adopted in an Introductory Science Course: A Q Methodology Study

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Sparks, Kelly Marie
Approaches to learning; physical geography; conceptions of learning
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The conceptions of learning, guiding students’ primary beliefs about their experiences of learning as well as their interpretations of learning itself, have been found to be related to their approaches to learning and learning outcomes. This study examined the subjective beliefs of students about learning science in an undergraduate college setting. Q methodology was used examine student perceptions about learning and the approaches to learning they employed. Thirty six students completed Q-sorts of their perspectives on learning and the approaches they took to achieve that learning in an introductory physical geography course. Centroid factor analysis and varimax rotation of these sorts produced three factors identified by their overarching themes as Deep, Surface and Strategic Approaches to Learning. The Deep factor focused on gaining an understanding of the content taught in class and a desire to carry this understanding beyond the class. The Surface factor focused on memorization as the primary method of learning with little concern regarding the quality of that learning. The Strategic factor emphasized learning practices based on time management and learning efficiencies with the primary goal of getting a good grade. This study shows that there is no single conception of learning and subsequent approaches to learning based on these perceptions. Moreover, there seems to be a disconnect between how students view learning and how they subsequently approach that learning. While many of the students expressed high conceptions of learning with goals of attaining understanding and comprehension of the learning material, they demonstrated very superficial learning methods which relied predominantly on memorization and instant recall.