Learning Problems Reported by College Students: Are They Using Learning Strategies?

By Rachal, K. Chris; Daigle, Sherri et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2007 | Go to article overview
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Learning Problems Reported by College Students: Are They Using Learning Strategies?


Rachal, K. Chris, Daigle, Sherri, Rachal, Windy S., Journal of Instructional Psychology


As teachers of higher education, we expect students to enter college with some understanding of what it means to be an effective learner and the ability to apply effective learning strategies. Unfortunately, many students do not develop effective learning strategies unless they receive explicit instruction and the opportunity to apply these skills. The current study focused on identifying students' self-reported problems engaging in several academic tasks. We hypothesized that students would report less learning difficulties as they matriculated through the curriculum. This study also identified which learning difficulties are most prevalent at according to student self-reports. Student behaviors related to studying and learning strategies were assessed with an on-line version of the Learning Needs Questionnaire. Factor analysis identified fourteen factors related to academic learning needs. Regardless of academic classification, students reported learning problems related to poor information processing, reading, writing, motivation to study, math, and test taking skills. Test anxiety was the only factor that demonstrated a significant difference between academic classifications. Recommendations are made to improve student use of learning strategies across the curriculum.

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Students attending universities that emphasize good educational practices demonstrate improved learning and personal development. One reason for this improvement is that good educational practices encourage students to put forth more effort to become academically engaged (e.g., write more papers, read more books, meet more frequently with faculty and peers, use information technology appropriately), which in turn enhances critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication, and responsible citizenship (Kuh, 2001). In fact, teaching students how to be more cognitively engaged by applying efficient learning strategies improves their academic performance (Weinstein, 1994). According to Kuh (2001) and Pascarella (2001), quality education engages students in proven educational practices.

Student engagement is defined as active participation in the learning process. This participation includes two elements: the students' willingness to use available academic resources, such as attending class, completing assignments, emailing professors, and using the library. The second element of engagement is the quality of the cognitive investment in learning tasks, the students' persistence in self-regulating their learning.

Engagement behaviors are largely motivated by the student's personal belief system that includes his or her thoughts and attitudes about what it means to be an "expert" student. When faced with a learning task, students will behave according to these beliefs that shape their identity as a student (Solberg, et al. 1997). For example, successful student identities will predict effective academic role behaviors, such as attending class, maintaining concentration, and calling on social skills necessary to ask questions, interact with other students, and rely on effective learning strategies. Passive role behaviors would be expected when students believe engagement behaviors are not necessary to be an expert student; for example, they may believe it is not necessary to attend all classes, take good notes, and participate in discussions.

Learning strategies refer to methods and techniques used by students to improve learning. These cognitive and behavioral "techniques," which include asking questions in class, taking notes, developing study schedules, using SQ3R, are essential to the learning process. Any thoughts or behaviors that facilitate the enhancement of knowledge retrieval and integration are considered to be learning strategies. Such strategies enable the learner to develop procedures for performing higher-level mental operations and must be goal directed, intentionally activated, and purposeful.

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