Bridging the Gaps between Learning and Teaching through Recognition of Students' Learning Approaches: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

Background of study

There are volumes of research investigating the relationship between best practices in teaching by teachers and best practices in learning by students. Authors in this field include Biggs, Entwistle, Ramsden, Marton, Saljo, Trigwell, Prosser, Kember, Felder and others. They have developed different and varied instruments to understand the teaching-learning scenario that can yield excellent academic outcomes.

Results from their research are varied. There are examples showing the relations between teachers' conception of teaching and learning and their approaches to teaching, as well as relations between students' deeper approaches to learning and higher quality learning outcomes (Trigwell, Prosser and Waterhouse, 1999). It is also suggested that marked differences between ethnic minority groups and marked gender differences in applications for entry to higher education are due to students' learning preferences (Jarvis and Woodrow, 2001). Additionally, a wide variety of individual learning styles and approaches has been identified and it would not be safe to conclude that any one approach would meet the needs of an entire cohort of students (Wishart, 2005).

Other findings indicate that students have different levels of motivation, different attitudes about teaching and learning and different responses to specific classroom environments and instructional practice (Felder and Brent, 2005). Interestingly, the broad distinction between an orientation towards comprehending the meaning of learning materials (deep approach) and an orientation towards merely reproducing those materials (surface approach) seems to be a universal feature of all systems of higher education (Richardson, 1994a).

In addition to the various perspectives from different parts of the world, this study gives another view from Malaysia about the relationship between students' learning approaches, learning methods and learning environments and the students' academic performance at Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia, Sarawak Campus. The findings suggest dimensions of learning diversity that may be present in Malaysian universities and could have implications for teaching and management which take account of the diversity as well as being relevant to other institutions of higher learning in Malaysia and neighbouring countries with similar characteristics.

Problem statement

Knowledge of how students go about their learning can be useful information for many people, such as psychologists, teachers, parents, counsellors and researchers. One of the cornerstones of successful students' learning is their ability to use appropriate learning approaches. Awareness and orchestration of learning approaches are central to self-regulation of learning-a key concept in explaining effective learning. There have been many criticisms and suggestions as to how students should approach their learning to enhance their academic performance. Furthermore, teachers and students have different perspectives and expectations on teaching and learning, the former are more inclined to emphasise a specific knowledge domain, while students are more novice learners (Gordon, 1995a and 1995b).

Essentially, teachers therefore should be knowledgeable about students' attitudes, beliefs, motives, expectations and study strategies so that they can use this knowledge to develop instructional materials and methods to suit students' teaching-learning relationships in order to achieve excellent academic performance. Teachers and course designers should pay closer attention to students' learning styles: by diagnosing them, by encouraging students to reflect on them and by designing teaching and learning interventions around them (Coffield et al., 2004). However, caution and caveat are appropriate here as there is no one right way-to-teach and conversely there is no one right way-to-learn. Effective teaching and effective learning are contingent upon the interplay of many other factors including the lecturer, his or her teaching materials, the students and the context in which the teachinglearning activity takes place. …