There is a substantial body of literature on university students' approaches to learning. In this body of literature, a prominently featured instrument is Entwistle et al's (1979) approaches to study inventory (ASI) and its revised version, Tait and Entwistle's (1995) RASI. Approaches taken by students to learning have been found to be influenced by, and responsive to, the context in which learning takes place. However, the evidence is based on learning contexts that are commonly conceptualised and constituted in the minds of students, not in the minds of lecturers. To investigate the association between students' perceptions of learning contexts and their perceptions of their approaches to learning, verges on a tautology. This study seeks to avoid such a tautology by investigating the relationship between students' learning approaches, as perceived by students, and instructors' facilitation of students' learning approaches, as perceived by lecturers.
This is an exploratory study of accounting undergraduate students and their instructors. Our instrument has been designed to measure instructors' facilitation of students' learning, using the same constructs of deep, surface and strategic learning, as Tait and Entwistle's (1995) RASI instrument. This new learning facilitation instrument was administered to lecturers in a four-year undergraduate accounting program in Canada. During the same period, Tait and Entwistle's RASI instrument was administered to accounting students taught by these lecturers. Results reveal several significant differences between lecturers' self-reported approaches to facilitating learning and students' self-reported learning approaches. The gap between teaching and learning approaches becomes greater for fourth year cohorts than first year cohorts in the accounting program. When students are grouped according to gender, further significant differences are found. Implications of these findings for future change in accounting education are discussed.
There is a considerable body of literature on student learning approaches or study orientations which tells us, inter alia, that we can quantitatively measure differences between qualitatively different student approaches to learning or studying (see literature review section below). Theoretical and empirical constructs relating to studying/learning approaches should be of fundamental importance to our understanding of the student learning process, as well as the outcomes of the process. The problem that such research has not translated into direct practical value for the average instructor in higher education, as suggested by Meyer and Muller (1990), may be due to a fundamental question of what studying/learning approach instructors seek to facilitate. Do instructors seek to facilitate a diversity of student learning approaches, or do they expect all students to develop a common "ideal" approach? There is a lack of evidence about the connection between students' perceived studying/learning approaches and instructors' perceived role in the facilitation of these approaches.
Rather than investigate instructors' beliefs, prior empirical research has sought to relate students' studying/learning approaches to students' perceptions about the context in which studying/learning takes place. Two instruments have featured prominently in this line of research; both come from the same study by Entwistle and Ramsden (1983). They are the Approaches to Learning Inventory (ASI) and Course Perceptions Questionnaire (CPQ). In the CPQ, dimensions of the studying/learning context include students' perceptions of formal teaching methods and course goals and standards. According to Meyer (1988), if instructors alter the context, this does not necessarily alter students' perceptions of it. Therefore, it has been argued, "(students') perceptions of learning context represent potentially powerful variables that can ... influence the quality of student approaches to studying" (Meyer and Muller, 1990, p.132).
However, such a pursuit of student perceptions has been a line of inquiry which has made instructors' beliefs about the facilitation of students' learning/studying processes irrelevant. The fact that there has been a lack of translation of findings about student perceptions of their studying/learning approaches and contexts into practical classroom outcomes by instructors, therefore, is not surprising.
Our study differs from previous studies both conceptually and methodologically in one important respect. In relation to the context of students' studying/learning, we consider instructors' perceptions about their role in facilitating students' approaches. We develop a new instructor-oriented instrument to replace the student-oriented CPQ instrument. Our instrument covers those aspects of the studying/learning context identified in the Accounting Education Change Commission's (1993) Issues Statement on teaching practices -- viz., course materials, instructor presentation skills, pedagogical (including assessment) methods and instructor guidance and advising. At the same time, our instrument parallels the key dimensions of students' studying/learning approaches contained in the Revised Approaches to Studying Inventory (RASI) of Tait and Entwistle (1995). These are the dimensions of deep, surface and strategic studying/learning approaches.
The original motivation for research into studying/learning approaches was clearly stated in Entwistle and Ramsden's (1983) proposition that "... it might be possible to make improvements to the quality of student learning in higher education by alterations to the contexts in which it occurs" (p.192). This remains the motivation for our study. We seek to provide evidence on the relationship between students' perceptions of their studying/learning approaches and instructors' perceptions of their role as a major element of the context in which these approaches are carried out by students.
The seminal work by Marton and Saljo (1976) distinguished between deep and surface approaches to reading an academic article. Essentially they characterised the deep approach as an active attempt by the student to understand the author's meaning, to explain the evidence in relation to the conclusion, and to relate the ideas contained in the article to the students' previous knowledge and experience. In contrast, they defined the surface approach as involving a tendency to memorise discrete facts or ideas, to be anxiously aware of the need to reproduce information at a later time, and to view a particular task in isolation both from the academic subject as a whole and from real life. Further work by Pask (1976) highlighted the fact that students used different studying strategies, which in normal academic environments were associated with characteristic methodologies. He referred to those who concentrated on step-by-step studying approaches and detailed arguments (and ignored inter-relationships between ideas), as operational learners who consistently adopt serialist strategies, To the other extreme, those who relied on analogies and anecdotes to build up their understanding of a topic and jumped to conclusions were referred to as comprehension learners who consistently adopted holist strategies.
The measurements of deep and surface approaches to learning, together with the strategic approach to studying, were captured by Entwistle et al. (1979) in their Approaches to Study Inventory (ASI). The ASI, derived from interview-based research, measures the three dimensions in terms of broader student orientations of meaning (deep approach), reproducing (surface approach) and achieving (strategic approach).
A revised version of the ASI (the RASI) was produced by Tait and Entwistle (1995). The RASI included several changes to the sub-scales within the deep and surface dimensions, and added scales labelled academic self-confidence, meta-cognitive awareness and lack of direction to reflect variables other researchers had found useful descriptors of learning processes. It became a 44 item, six dimensional questionnaire.
A comparable measurement instrument called the Study Process Questionnaire (SPQ) had been developed by Biggs (1979). Biggs' SPQ was derived from judgmental literature on the personal qualities needed for successful academic learning. It measured approaches to studying/learning in terms of sub-scales reflecting students' motives on each of the deep, surface and strategic dimensions.
The CPQ has been criticised by Meyer and Muller (1990) because, unlike the ASI, it does not distinguish between qualitatively different perceptions of any of its constructs. It determines, instead, the degree to which certain broad constructs (such as 'good teaching', 'workload', 'freedom in learning') are present or absent in a departmental learning context. Perhaps more fundamentally, a tautology seems to underlie attempts to establish a relationship between students' perceptions of their studying approaches and students' perceptions of their studying context. For example, items in the study approaches instrument include whether 'the volume of information strongly challenges your ability to cope', or whether 'ideas the come across are able to be related to those in other topics or other courses'. Of a parallel nature, students are asked, in the study context instrument, whether their department requires a high 'workload' of them, or provides them with a greater 'freedom of learning'.
The first stage of data collection involved the administration of the RASI instrument to students in all four years of the BBA accounting program. There were 334 useable responses. A profile of respondents is given in Table 1. The demographic variable of nationality of student had no significant relationship to the three RASI factors of deep, surface, or strategic approaches to studying/learning. The variables of age and the year students started the program are shown, in Table 1, to be highly correlated to the students year-of-program. Therefore, year of the program is adopted as the test variable, along with gender.
|1. Crosstabulation of GENDER by YEAR OF PROGRAM|
|YEAR OF PROGRAM|
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Total|
|GENDER: Number (%)|
|Number of missing observations: 7|
|2. NATIONALITY, AGE, YEAR STARTED|
|Canadian||273||80.1||1997||124||36.4||Under 21 years||214||62.8|
|Missing||27||7.9||1995||59||17.3||Over 25 years||16||4.7|
|3. Bivariate Correlation of AGE, YEAR OF PROGRAM and YEAR STARTED|
|AGE||1.0000, P= .|
|YEARPROGRAM||.7896, P= .000||1.0000, P= .|
|YRSTARTED||.6738, P= .000||.8589, P= .000||1.0000, P= .|
The validity and reliability of data from the student sample was tested, and results are given in Table 2. The 29-item instrument loaded onto three factors, providing a cumulative percentage of explained variance of 57.1%. The Cronbach alpha was acceptably high for all three factors (surface, deep, and strategic approaches), as shown in Table 2.
|Factors||No.of||Varimax Rotated Factor Matrix||Cronb|
|items||Factor 1||Factor 2||Factor 3||Alpha|
|Relying on memorising||2||.6703||.4462|
|Difficulty in making sense||2||.7599||.4387|
|Concern about coping||4||.7991||.7642|
|Determination to excel||2||.4846||.5100|
|Effort in studying||2||.7824||.3905|
|Looking for meaning||2||.5154||.1455|
|Active interest/critical stance||2||.6761||.0292|
|Relating and organis ideas||3||.7752||.3248|
|Using evidence and logic||3||.6946||.6006|
Pct of Variance
Cumulative Pct of Var.
The second stage of data collection involved the administration of the newly-developed Approaches to Teaching instrument to 34 academic staff who were lecturing on the accounting program to the students who were sampled. This instrument contained 42 items, 16 for each of the 3 studying/learning approaches of students. The validity and reliability tests for this instrument are given in Table 3. The factor loadings suggest that construct validity is questionable for the dimensions of surface and strategic approaches. The items used to measure both approaches fall into two factors, not one. The sample size (n = 34) relative to the items to be factor analysed (42 items) causes instability in the results of the factor analysis. Therefore, the three constructs of surface, deep, and strategic approaches will be disaggregated into their underlying items when we compare the data from the lecturers' sample with data from the students' sample. Table 3 further indicates a high reliability (Cronbach alpha) of the measures in the lecturers' sample.
|Factors||No.of||Varimax Rotated Factor Matrix||Cronb|
|items||Factor 1||Factor 2||Factor 3||Alpha|
|Relying on memorising||4||-.8395||.8973|
|Difficulty in making sense||4||.6170||.7955|
|Concern about coping||4||.8501||.8459|
|Determination to excel||4||.5796||.6295|
|Effort in studying||4||.8038||.7021|
|Looking for meaning||4||.9055||.7545|
|Active interest/critical stance||4||.8175||.7726|
|Relating and organis ideas||4||.7581||.8452|
|Using evidence and logic||4||.7502||.6297|
Pct of Variance
Cumulative Pct of Var.
|Tait & Entwistle (1995) rev.||Stage of the Degree Program||One-way ANOVA|
|Approaches to Study Inventory||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||between years|
|Looking for meaning||3||3.93||4||3.71||4||3.85||3||3.72||.445||.721|
|Active interest/critical stance||4||3.84||3||3.76||2||4.04||1||3.89||1.788||.149|
|Relating and organis ideas||9||3.43||9||3.36||8||3.52||8||3.36||.823||.482|
|Using evidence and logic||6||3.62||7||3.62||5||3.80||5||3.68||.967||.409|
|Relying on memorising||8||3.47||6||3.64||10||3.40||7||3.57||.852||.467|
|Difficulty in making sense||10||3.36||10||3.35||11||3.27||11||3.03||1.748||.157|
|Concern about coping||7||3.51||2||3.78||7||3.57||9||3.21||4.447||.004**|
|Determination to excel||1||4.30||1||4.07||1||4.07||4||3.71||8.101||.000**|
|Effort in studying||5||3.76||8||3.45||6||3.73||6||3.60||2.808||.039*|
|Lack of direction||2.58||2.47||2.06||2.06||2.929||.034*|
Secondly, Table 4 shows that the mean score for a surface approach is significantly different (F-probability = .048) for stages of the program. In particular, year 4 students are less inclined to agree that they adopt a surface approach (mean = 3.14) than year 2 students (mean = 3.5). The single item which is driving this difference is 'concern about coping'. Concern for coping is greatest in year 2 (mean = 3.78) and least in year 4 (mean = 3.21). Interestingly, the item 'relying on memorising' has not significantly changed throughout the four years.
Thirdly, Table 4 shows that the mean score for strategic approaches to studying/learning is not significantly different from one year of the program to the next (F-probability = .076). However, the item 'determination to excel' has significantly improved from disagree in year 1 (mean = 4.30) to somewhat disagree in year 4 (mean = 3.71). Further, 'effort in studying' appears to have been significantly greater in year 2 than in other years.
A further interpretation of the results in Table 4 is found in the rankings of the items from agree to disagree. The highest ranked item (ie, the highest agree score) across all years is 'active interest/critical stance', whereas the lowest ranked item is 'relatedness' (ie, relating to the facts and details you study, more so than the bigger picture).
|Tait & Entwistle (1995) rev.||Gender||Independent samples|
|Approaches to Study Inventory||Males (n=166)||Females (n=168)||t-test (df=332)|
|Dimension/item||Mean||Std dev||Mean||Std dev||t-value||sig|
|Looking for meaning||3.7410||.801||3.7246||.828||0.18||.854|
|Active interest/critical stance||3.9277||.769||3.7798||.746||1.78||.075|
|Relating and organis ideas||3.5171||.671||3.2996||.668||2.97||.003**|
|Using evidence and logic||3.7384||.746||3.5764||.752||1.97||.049*|
|Relying on memorising||3.3163||1.061||3.7575||1.024||3.86||.000**|
|Difficulty in making sense||3.2229||.953||3.3482||1.025||1.16||.248|
|Concern about coping||3.2199||1.001||3.8785||.913||6.28||.000**|
|Determination to excel||4.0723||.779||4.1138||.738||0.50||.618|
|Effort in studying||3.6114||.845||3.6257||.871||0.15||.879|
|Lack of direction||2.3780||1.441||2.3095||1.418||0.44||.663|
|Step||Variable entered (variables in the analysis after step 4)||Tolerance||F to remove||Wilks' lambda|
|1||Deep approach - relating and organising ideas||.9401||10.7814||.7447|
|2||Strategic approach - time management||.9135||22.9311||.7685|
|3||Surface approach - concern about coping||.8619||4.0448||.7314|
|4||Surface approach - relying on memorising||.8261||47.7086||.8173|
|Wilks' lambda insufficient for further computation (variables not in the analysis after step 4)|
|Step||Variable not entering||Tolerance||F to enter||Wilks' lambda|
|Deep approach - active interest and critical stance||.8822||3.0936||.7174|
|Deep approach - looking for meaning||.9008||3.0043||.7235|
|Deep approach - using evidence and logic||.6349||.0710||.7233|
|Strategic approach - determination to excel||.7860||.4105||.7227|
|Strategic approach - effort in studying||.6339||.0961||.7233|
|Strategic approach - organised studying||.7991||.0112||.7234|
|Surface approach - difficulty in making sense||.6739||.0823||.7233|
|Surface approach - unrelatedness of topics||.6375||2.3938||.7188|
|F statistics and significances between pairs of groups after step 4. Each F statistic has 4 and 368 degrees of freedom.|
Table 6 reveals that the greatest gaps between students' perceived studying/learning approaches and lecturers' facilitation of these approaches is found in a mixture of dimensions. The first item entering the discriminant function suggests that lecturers perceive themselves in a significantly stronger light at adopting teaching approaches which facilitate 'the relating together and organising of ideas', than do students at achieving this feature in their approaches to studying/learning. The other three items entering the discriminant function, given in Table 6, are associated with time management, concern about coping and relying on memorising.
Of more fundamental importance to the literature of studying/learning approaches is the development and testing of a new instrument to measure students' studying/learning context from the perspective of lecturers. It has been shown that a mix of specific items emerge from the deep, surface and strategic scales as significant discriminators between students' perceived studying/learning approaches and lecturers' perceptions of how they facilitates these student approaches. The identification of these discriminators has important practical implications. The potential means becomes available for lecturers to systematically identify the elements of teaching effectiveness which they are practicing in a way substantially at odds with their own students' studying/learning approaches or orientations. If this is achieved, then the issue of getting research findings and theory developments concerning the student learning process into the classroom, and into assessments of teaching effectiveness, can be progressed.
Calderon, T. G., A. L. Gabbin and B. P. Green (1996). Summary of Promoting and Evaluating Effective Teaching. Journal of Accounting Education, 14:3, 367-383.
Entwistle, N. J., and P. Ramsden (1983). Understanding Student Learning. London: Croom Helm.
Entwistle, N. J., M. Hanley and D. J. Hounsell (1979). Identifying Distinctive Approaches to Studying. Higher Education, 8, 365-380.
Marton, F., and R. Saljo (1976). On Qualitative Differences in Learning: Outcome and Process. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 4-11.
Meyer, J. H. F. (1988). Student Perceptions of Learning Context and Approaches to Studying, South African Journal of Higher Education, 2, 73-82.
Meyer, J. H. F. and M. W. Muller (1990). Evaluating the Quality of Student Learning: an Unfolding Analysis of the Association between Perceptions of Learning Context and Approaches to Studying at an Individual Level. Studies in Higher Education, 15:2, 131-153.
Meyer, J. H. F. and P. Parsons (1989). Approaches to Studying and Course Perceptions Using the Lancaster Inventory - a Comparative Study. Studies in Higher Education, 14:2, 137-153.
Pask, G.(1976). Styles and Strategies of Learning, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 128-148.
Ramsden, P. and N. J. Entwistle (1981). Effects of Academic Departments on Students' Approaches to Studying, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 51, 368-383
Tait, H. and N. J. Entwistle (1995). The Revised Approaches to Studying Inventory. Edinburgh: Centre for Research on Learning and Instruction, University of Edinburgh
Wilson, K. L., R. M. Smart and R. J. Watson (1996). Gender Differences in Approaches to Learning in First Year Psychology Students. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 66, 59-71.
|Please cite as: Taylor, D. W., Chou, T. F. and Fisher, J. (1999). Evidence of the gap between students' learning approaches and instructors' teaching approaches in accounting education In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 417-428. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/taylor-d.html|