Changes in learning in higher education
The growing numbers and increasing heterogeneity of students as well as the new demands they must face in the instructional environment of higher education have directed attention to the characteristics of students' learning. This has been an issue in Western European and American studies on learning in higher education since the 1970s. The present literature review distinguishes three major periods of research. In the first, the issue was discussed without scientific attention, in the second it was studied in the framework of cognitive psychology and in the third, from the 1990s, the constructivist paradigm also influenced the investigations. The laboratory experiments and phenomenographic studies of the second period revealed different learning characteristics of students in higher education: the holistic and serialist learning style (Pask, 1976) and deep and surface approaches to studying (Marton and Säljö, 1976), the latter of which was also complemented with a questionnaire-based studies of motivation. The new wave of research in the 1990s resulted in a more complex model of learning styles (Vermunt, 1998), determined by the mental model, the orientation as well as the regulatory and processing strategies of learning. Research has also detected a change in the learning style of students in higher education: it becomes dissonant in the first year as encounters with a new instructional environment initially transform merely the mental model of learning, leading to a change in study strategies only later. Among the factors that influence learning style and its changes two major areas were analysed. Attention to student characteristics (age, gender and cultural background) failed to yield unequivocal and reliable results. The examination of the role of context (learning environment, courses and academic discipline) revealed convincing evidence for the effects of innovative learning environments and different courses on learning style.
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