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In such cases the learning process involves pure memorizing either by dint of constant repetition or by imposing some kind of meaningfulness, often through the use of mnemonic strategies. But a substantial proportion of learning depends on understanding material which does have an internal structure that can be grasped. In these cases the process of learning should aim at finding this structure in as deep a sense as possible. This is a qualitatively different kind of learning which will result in a different outcome. The nature of this outcome is that it represents a conception of a phenomenon in the surrounding world. A conception can in principle mean those very superficial characteristics of a phenomenon such as size, shape or colour.
Here that conception is taken rather to denote the nature of an object or an event. In the latter buy writing paper case, what is pivotal to understanding is the grasp of the relationships between a phenomenon and its context. External or concrete characteristics of a phenomenon do not alone provide a basis for understanding. In this respect everything is always a part of something larger or more inclusive (i.
Meaningfulness is thus not an inherent property of nature or culture. It is imposed by human consciousness, which is itself evolving continually.
Learning, then, should be regarded as that aspect of human life through which the environment — or man himself — appears with a higher degree of meaningfulness than before. Popper, 1972) — knowledge is nothing but a series of occasional, provisional steps towards what is often described as an unreachable complete knowledge about reality.
Similarly a conception, as Marton (1978) describes it. Such structural differences would seem to hold open the possibility of devising empirically derived taxonomies, such as SOLO, which would allow the quality of a wide range of learning outcomes to be systematically analysed.
Yet our research has drawn attention to variations in outcome which cannot fully be understood 35 OUTCOMES OF LEARNING except in relation to the content of learning. Analyses of learning outcomes in relation to content enable us to describe variations in the conceptions students hold about important parts of their course. These analyses also suggest that, at present, formal education is not as successful as it might be in helping students to develop more sophisticated conceptions. More searching questions, though framed in a direct and straightforward way, show up fundamental misunderstandings. Thus a study of qualitative differences in outcome has a vitally important buy writing paper role to play in helping to determine — and ultimately improve — the quality of student learning. Let us take the first of our own studies as an example.
Students were asked to read an article on university reform intended to bring the pass rates of universities more in line with those of polytechnic institutes (see page 25). As there were substantial differences in pass rates between different groups within universities, the author argued that improvement in pass rates at universities, if necessary at all, would depend on taking selective measures, i. There are differences between different groups of students Now, how did these differences in understanding come about? Those whose answer was of the C-variety, for instance, obviously thought that the author was arguing for something which, in reality, he was arguing against (i. This observation could be seen as a reminder of the kinds of problems one finds when analysing in detail how people read texts and how they learn. Those with a D-kind of understanding, furthermore, seem to have totally missed the point that the author was arguing for anything at all. Probably, they assumed that he simply wanted to describe something, to convey information. The most obvious explanation of why such variations in understanding arise would be to argue that learning depends on prior knowledge.
Thus the differing outcomes could be explained in terms of differing levels of knowledge or linguistic skills. Although such an argument may be true in a general way, it cannot explain the results of this experiment. The article here was chosen specifically because the language used was simple (it was an article taken from a daily newspaper), and because the prerequisite knowledge could reasonably be assumed to be available to all the students (it was about a widely debated university reform). After having, at least tentatively, ruled out that explanation, the next APPROACHES TO LEARNING 37 one again seems fairly obvious. This buy writing paper type of explanation does not illuminate the fundamental question of how the different ways of understanding the text have come about. If the outcome of learning differs between individuals, then the very process of learning which leads to different outcomes must also have differed between individuals. This is a fundamental assumption under- lying the line of reasoning pursued in these studies. The most obvious explanation of the differences in outcome should derive from a description of the differences in the process that led to the different outcomes. After having reached such a position, we still face a highly important question concerning the strategy of research: What does it take to describe differences in the learning process? Of course, we could have had a theory or a model of processes involved in learning by reading a text. We could have attempted to test that theory or model by ceteris paribus varying one factor at a time between one or several experimental and control groups. In fact we did not have any such theory or model to test in an experimental buy writing paper setting. On the contrary, we started from the assumption that the functional background of differences in the outcome of learning in natural study situations was still largely unknown. In consequence we had to try to find out in what way students function differently in such situations. But what sources of information could we find in order to be able to answer this question? Observing students engaged in studying is really not a very rewarding research method. We can measure the time spent on reading the text, we can examine the underlinings and notes made, but such data do not provide useful information.
External data of this type do not form a pattern systematically related to the outcome of learning (see Svensson, 1976). And, indeed, there are no good reasons why they should. This was one of the methods used by Svensson (1976, 1977) which led him to the conclusions discussed in the next chapter.
Here we shall consider results derived from the alternative strategy (Marton, 1974). Students were asked to recount how they had been handling the learning task and how it appeared to them. To ask the students to describe how they had been handling the learning task is to 38 THE EXPERIENCE OF LEARNING some extent tantamount to asking them how the learning task and the learning situation appeared to them, because it is the only language in which questions about what we do when we try to learn by reading a text can be answered. What we can do instead is to say how the world appears to us and this was exactly what the students did in our experiments. The basic methodology was introduced in the previous chapter. Students were asked to read the article, knowing they would be asked questions on it afterwards.
Besides the questions about what they remembered of its content, students were also asked questions designed to discover how they had tackled this task.
They were asked, for example: Could you describe how you went about reading the text? While reading, was there anything that struck you as particularly important? Each student participated in an individually run session and all the conversation between him or her and the experimenter was recorded and transcribed verbatim subsequently.