Erik Jan van Rossum

  • Learning and teaching: a model of linked continua of conceptions

    Erik Jan van Rossum and Rebecca Hamer, Hotelschool The Hague, RAND Europe

    The authors perceive it as an intermediate between a research and a conceptual paper.

    In the past decades, a body of evidence has been gathered regarding the views of students and teachers on learning and teaching. In all these studies the views discussed have been categorised or quantified into a limited but differing number of categories (factors). The number of categories ranges between a minimum of two up to sometimes ten. In classical questionnaire based research - characterised by questions with closed answer categories - the number of categories or factors discerned may be a consequence of the kind of questions included in the questionnaire. The number of factors or categories is thus not necessarily a reflection of the different views students or teachers really hold on learning or teaching. The more qualitative studies include studies based on interviews or open-ended questions and the categories formed in the analysis reflect more adequately the different views that the respondents display regarding learning and teaching. In these studies the number of categories differs as a result of the specific nature of a respondent group, the level of detail that the researcher uses during the analysis, etc. The result of all these different study outcomes is mainly confusion. Firstly, confusion of the people who could try to benefit from the results and implement it in their teaching practices or policy development. Secondly, confusion of a multitude of somewhat different categories that distracts from a clear analysis and the recognition of the developmental character of thinking about learning and teaching.

    In this paper we will discuss the proposition that there are six basic developmental categories describing students' and teachers' views on learning and teaching. This proposition is based on multiple studies regarding teachers' thinking about teaching (i.e. Fox, 1983; Kember 1997 and Samuelowicz and Bain, 2002) and multiple studies regarding students' views on learning and good teaching (i.e. van Rossum et al. 1985; van Rossum et al, 2003; Purdie et al, 1996; and Marton et al. 1993). The studies treating the views of teachers on teaching show clearly that six distinct categories are sufficient to describe the full range of teacher thinking about teaching. Furthermore, they show that these six categories can be interpreted as a nested hierarchy of teaching conceptions. The studies based on the students' views on learning (and good teaching) give rise to the same conclusion: six hierarchically nested categories are sufficient to cover the range from simple theories of learning to the most developed and complex theory. In several studies by van Rossum it has been shown that the students' views on learning and their views on good teaching are perfectly matched: each learning conception is associated with a unique teaching conception. This will be illustrated in this paper with numerous examples from student responses.

    Close examination of the teachers' views on teaching reveals that the teachers' views are mirror images of the found students' views on good teaching. And through the link between learning and teaching conceptions established for students, we propose that teachers have learning conceptions that match their teaching conceptions and so also match the learning conceptions described for the students. The proposition that one system of six closely linked learning and teaching conceptions is sufficient to describe both students' and teachers' views on learning and teaching can have far reaching practical implications for improving student learning and evaluating teaching practices/curricula or policy development. A similar proposition regarding the epistemological development in students was brought forward by Perry in 1970. The developmental nature of the system describing views on learning and teaching leads to the conclusion that in principle education should be structured to facilitate this development. This means for example that policy or curriculum development can use these categories to define end terms for the various stages within a particular type of education (e.g. secondary and tertiary). Furthermore, the system can be used to evaluate students' initial levels as well as the speed of development and the effectiveness of the curriculum regarding developing students' thinking about learning/teaching. In fact the proposed system is at this moment being used in precisely that way at the Hotelschool the Hague - an international higher education institute for middle and general management in the hospitality industry. The system is used to evaluate the effectiveness of enterprising learning, a teaching-learning principle implemented in 1997. Currently van Rossum and Hamer have gathered longitudinal data from over 200 students of the Hotelschool and a number of examples from these data will be used to illustrate the way in which the described model or system can be used.