Enhancing the Learning Proficiency of Students in Higher Education

By De Corte, Erik; Masui, Chris | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Enhancing the Learning Proficiency of Students in Higher Education


De Corte, Erik, Masui, Chris, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

Higher education is facing world-wide a number of major problems. Firstly, universities have to adjust to larger and more heterogeneous populations than in the past. Secondly, in tertiary education in many European countries the output of students completing a degree is largely insufficient. And, last but not least, there is an urgent need for graduates who are prepared for lifelong learning. In response to these challenges we carried out a research project aiming at the design, implementation, and evaluation of a powerful learning environment for fostering learning competence in beginning university students (for more detailed information see Masui 2002; Masui and De Corte 1999; Masui and De Corte 2005). In designing the study we took into account the growing knowledge base about self-regulated learning (see e.g., Boekaerts, Pintrich, and Zeidner 2000).

This intervention study embodies major components of the CLIA-model, a framework for the design of powerful learning environments that has resulted from our theoretical and empirical work over the past years relating to the creation of instructional settings that facilitate in students the acquisition of productive knowledge and learning and thinking skills (De Corte, Verschaffel, and Masui 2004). This investigation was not designed as a formal test of the CLIA-model, but was carried out in parallel with its development. As such the study has been instrumental in identifying and specifying the different components of the model as described below. This approach is in line with the perspective of the Design-Based Research Collective (2003; see also Burkhardt and Schoenfeld 2003) on the potential of intervention research, namely exploring possibilities for novel learning and teaching environments, and developing contextualized theories of learning and teaching.

In the next section we present a brief overview of the CLIA-model as background for the review of the intervention study in the subsequent section.

CLIA: A framework for designing powerful learning environments

The framework for designing learning environments that are intended to be powerful is structured according to four interconnected components:

1. Competence: components of competence or expertise in a domain.

2. Learning: characteristics of effective learning processes.

3. Intervention: principles and methods guiding the design of learning environments.

4. Assessment: forms of assessment for monitoring and improving learning and teaching. These four components have been deliberately chosen building on the related views of Glaser (1976), Resnick (1983), and Snow and Swanson (1992) concerning the core elements of a theory of learning from instruction. As argued by Resnick (1983), such a theory must be "both descriptive, explaining why instruction works and why it does not, and prescriptive, what to do the next time for better results" (p. 6). In that perspective the theory must conform to several requirements. First, it must specify the objectives of instruction, thus the competence to be attained. Second, it should provide a theoretical account of the learning processes needed to acquire competence. Third, it should specify guiding principles for instructional interventions to support those learning processes. In addition, it is necessary to assess the outcomes of the interventions (Glaser 1976; Snow and Swanson 1992). As these four components are narrowly interconnected they need of course to be aligned in designing learning environments.

Competence

Acquiring competence in a domain requires the acquisition of five categories of components: cognitive ones, on the one hand, and affective-motivational components, on the other hand. (see e.g., De Corte and Verschaffel 2006)

1. A well-organized and flexibly accessible domain-specific knowledge base involving the facts, symbols, concepts, and rules that constitute the contents of a subject-matter field.

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