Sarah Aiston

  • Learning for life, not just for exams: the development of metalearning in higher education students

    Sarah Aiston, Durham University, UK

    Julie Rattray, Durham University, UK

    Session 2g, Tuesday 09.00

    Research paper

    Themes addressed:

    • Skills development and lifelong learning
    • Supporting learners


    Students in higher education are rarely asked to consider themselves as learners. They receive summative feedback, which arguably, provides comments on an individual piece, and is interpreted by the student as relating only to that piece of work: what is missing is a student developing a global concept of themselves as a learner. Researchers have considered how we develop metalearning capacities in higher education students by exploring students’ perceptions of themselves as learners (cf Meyer and Norton, 2004) and have explored students’ notions of what makes an ideal teacher (Mazuro et al, 2000), however, to date, no one has considered the relationship between the two.

    Research focus

    This research considers students’ perceptions of themselves as both learners and teachers. A change to pedagogical approaches in higher education has given rise to students adopting the role of both learner and teacher simultaneously, for instance, the move towards paired-learning, student-led seminars and peer assessment. By considering the relationship, if any, between students’ concept as themselves as learners and as teachers, we might look to see how we can further support the learning development of students in higher education. This paper will explore these issues in reference to a study undertaken with a group of Durham University first-year undergraduates. These students were undertaking a BA in Initial Primary Teaching and the research was conducted in the context of a compulsory Professional Development Module.


    The first stage of the research was to gain an understanding of how students conceptualised themselves as teachers. Students were asked at the beginning of the academic year, before they had undertaken any teaching practice, to write reflective pieces on their personal philosophy of teaching (not what they thought makes a ‘good’ teacher) (n=98). Shortly after this phase was completed, the Reflections on Learning Inventory (RoLI) was administered (n=83). The RoLI is designed to engage students in a critical self-analysis of the way they learn as individuals. After processing the data, the results were fed back to students in the form of individual learning profiles, together with information that helped them interpret the results. The exercise was followed up by students writing a short reflective piece on how they felt about their learning profile (n=53).


    The work described here is currently being analysed and the findings will be reported at the conference. Whilst one might suggest these students have a more developed concept of themselves as teachers, nevertheless, this cohort (because of the pertinent nature of the cohort) provides an excellent opportunity to begin to explore how students conceptualise teaching and learning.


    • Mazuro C, Norton LS, Hartley J, Newstead S and Richards JTE (2000) Practicing what you preach? Lecturers' and students' perceptions of teaching practices. Psychology Teaching Review, 9, 2, 91-102.
    • Meyer JHF and Norton LS (2004) Innovations in Education and Teaching International. Special Issue: Metalearning in Higher Education, 41, 4.