Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Connecting the Dots: The Decline in Meaningful Learning

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Connecting the Dots: The Decline in Meaningful Learning

Article excerpt

The authors describe cross-decades changes in the achievement attitudes and behaviors of average U. S. undergraduates that parallel the declines in meaningful learning reported by Arum and colleagues. Comparisons of pre-1987 and 2004-8 students on seven achievement-predictive measures revealed that (a) average 2004-8 undergraduates scored substantially below the pre-1987 undergraduate mean on all seven measures, (b) 2004-8 undergraduate means differed from pre-1987 high school means on only one measure, and (c) pre-1987 undergraduate means matched 2004-8 graduate student means on six of seven measures. The authors consider the impacts of student behavioral changes on university teaching, identify faculty adaptations that have contributed to the decline in meaningful learning, and argue that improvement in meaningful learning will require methods which effectively persuade more students to embrace sustained effort as their new norm despite their tendencies to prefer and expect an easier path.

A body of research and scholarly opinion suggests the goal of meaningful learning is not being met as well today as in past decades in mid-range four-year U.S. universities and colleges. Meaningful learning is typically defined as learning that accomplishes improvements in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication. In addition, scholars who write about meaningful learning often emphasize what it is not: namely, learning that reflects only that a student has memorized and then later recognized or recalled information. Essentially, any level of learning higher than level one, remembering by recognition or recall, in Bloom's Revised Taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002) may be labeled "meaningful" in learning outcomes research. There are more formal definitions, however, in critical thinking outcomes studies (e. g., Bensley et. al., 2010) and in overviews of the critical thinking concept (Halpern, 2003; Bensley, 2011). In the vein of Halpern, Bensley (2011, p.l) defines critical thinking as consisting both of skills and motivational dispositions: (a) critical thinking skill is the "appropriate use of relevant rules and procedures for reasoning in a discourse context" and (b) critical thinking is "a motivated process involving dispositions and self-regulation in the service of belief formation and revision." The dispositions dimensions of Halpern's and Bensley's works provided a context for understanding some of the declines in achievementrelated characteristics we describe in this study.

The Decline in Meaningful Learning

Arum and colleagues (2011) reported that average 2002-7 U. S. undergraduates demonstrated weak gains in meaningful learning-that is, critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication (Arum & Roksa, 2011; Arum, R., Roksa, J., & Cho, E., 2011). Pascarella, Blaich, Martin, and Hanson (2011) replicated the Arum group's research and compared their results and the Arum group's findings to those of Pascarella and Terenzini (2005). The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) was the instrument that was common to the Arum and Pascarella studies. The CLA consists of direct measures of student performance using holistic assessment based on open-ended prompts representing "real-world" scenarios. The Pascarella research added a second measure of critical thinking which they described as objectively scored. Pascarella and colleagues (2011) found that gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication had decreased approximately the same degree in their research as had been reported by the Arum group. Four-year gains in critical thinking skills, for example, increased one standard deviation for samples examined in the 1969 to 1989 time frame but increased less than one-half standard deviation in the 2007 (Arum) and 2010 (Pascarella) samples. Such findings strongly suggest that U. S. college student performance-at least in areas of academic work that require deep processing and sustained effort-has undergone substantial decline (also, cf. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.