Keith Trigwell

  • Understanding the Oxford Learning Environment

    Keith Trigwell and Paul Ashwin, University of Oxford

    Research paper

    Theme(s) addressed: Learning environments

    At the 2002 symposium we presented an analysis of the student feedback from one Oxford college on perceptions of their learning environment (Trigwell and Ashwin, 2002). The questionnaire used in that study was developed using the 3P model of student learning and contained standard items on approaches to learning, and perceptions of the learning environment (Prosser and Trigwell, 1999). It also included anticipated learning outcomes questions and a new scale designed to capture students' evoked conceptions of learning. The results indicated that when students perceived the learning environment as being more supportive of their learning, they were more likely to describe an evoked conception of learning that was more closely aligned with those promoted by the University.

    From this result, we concluded, that when seen from a relational student learning research perspective, it is conceptions that are evoked by the students' experience of their unique learning situation more than conceptions of learning per se, that are strongly related to students' approaches to learning, perceptions of their learning environment and learning outcome. This is because an evoked conception of learning is one that students adopt in response to their perceived learning context, and perceived learning contexts are closely related to learning approaches. The evoked conception may not be the same conception as expressed by students in interviews or inventories on their conceptions of learning. For example, if students perceive a situation requires it, a less sophisticated conception may be evoked. It this paper, we report on a large-scale study of the same phenomena, designed as a replication of the earlier study, but also to explore several new areas - relations between student self regulation and approach to learning, and the impact of the tutorial system and the collegial context on student learning.

    Over 5500 questionnaires were sent to all undergraduate students in 17 of the University of Oxford's 32 undergraduate colleges. Items derived from the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (Pintrich, Smith and McKeachie, 1989) were used to gauge the degree of self-regulation among students. Items on the tutorial system, collegiality and the learning environment were adapted from the earlier study (Trigwell and Ashwin, 2002). In this paper, we report on how these students describe relations between approaches to learning, motivation, perceptions of their learning environment, evoked conceptions of learning, their tutorial system and the collegial environment at Oxford. The results suggest ways in which the learning environment, or students' perceptions of that environment, might be altered in order to improve the quality of their learning and where the ideas of self regulation fit into the 3P model of student learning.


    Pintrich, P., Smith,D. and McKeachie, W. (1989) Motivated Strategies for Learning Questiuonnaire, National Centre for Research to Improve Post Secondary Teaching and Learning. December.
    Prosser, M. and Trigwell, K. (1999). Understanding Learning and Teaching: The experience in higher education. SRHE and Open University Press: Buckingham.
    Trigwell, K. and Ashwin, P. (2002). Evoked Conceptions of Learning and Learning Environments. Paper presented at the 10th Improving Student Learning Symposium, Brussels.