Hard Af Segerstad

  • Learning in higher education and work life

    Helene Hård Af Segerstad, Lars Owe Dahlgren, Madeleine Abrandt Dahlgren, Håkan Hult, Kristina Johansson
    Linköping University

    Session 2a

    Tuesday 4 September 2007, 09.00-10.00

    Research paper

    Themes: Lifelong learning

    This study focuses on approaches to learning in higher education and in work life. Research has hitherto mostly described students’ approaches to learning separated from approaches to learning in work life. The results reported here constitute a part of a comprehensive joint research project between four research teams from Sweden, Norway, Germany and Poland. The project focuses on the transition between higher education and working life. A point of departure is to view the transition from higher education to work life as a trajectory between different communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991, Wenger, 1998).

    Three different Masters’ programmes at Linköping university are focused on and compared: political science, psychology and mechanical engineering. The method of generating data preferred has been semi-structured interviews. The analysis is multilayered. We are interested not only in the variation in individual constructions of various aspects of approaches to learning expressed by the students and novices, but also in what constitute the most common features of the constructions in each group studied, and could be understood as discourses operating in the programme and in work life. Data have been analysed in two steps. The first step comprises a phenomenographic analysis of interview data (Marton, 1981, Dahlgren & Fallsberg, 1991). The second step is to carry out a discourse analysis (Gee, 1999, Talja, 1999). The specific aims of this article are 1) to identify approaches to learning reported by informants as senior students and as novice professionals with 18 months of work life experience 2) To analyse these learning approaches in relation to the different contexts (education and work) and 3) the different programmes (psychology, political science and mechanical engineering) and relate the results to different discourses of learning in higher education and work life.

    The results indicate that students in different programmes report different approaches to learning. The common elements among psychologists and political scientist are to be active and to learn to prioritise and look for causal and other relationships when learning and learning through practice or practical applications. While mechanical engineering students are learning by observing teachers solving problems and coping by organising informal student groups. In work life the psychologists are learning by examining new situations both systematic and unsystematic. The political scientists learn by being active, investigate and write. The mechanical engineers refers to the ‘engineering thinking skill’. This is the ability to discern the parts within the whole and to keep a flexible attitude to knowledge and to update knowledge as well as trying new fields regularly.

    The questions that are raised from the results of the study can be understood in relation to the different contexts for learning. The differences between education and work are discussed in relation to what is the primary activity in each of these two contexts. What is considered as sources of knowledge and what is considered situations where learning is expected to take place?