First Year Students’ Conceptions of Learning: A Phenomenographic Research

First Year Students’ Conceptions of Learning: A Phenomenographic Research

Despina Varnava-Maroucho (European University Cyprus, Cyprus)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-198-6.ch004
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Through lessons learned, from the research outlined, the chapter aims, first, to provide future researchers with some practical knowledge on research design and development. Secondly, to emphasise some of the dilemmas that so often separate theory from practice in the field of student learning and which are so crucial for teacher professional development, course designers and educators in general.
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Despite the fact that recent research has revealed major differences on how students view their learning, little attention has been paid to understanding these differences and their implication for designing successful learning environments. There is an apparent need to cultivate a learning culture that requires much closer attention to the unique ways in which different students learn most effectively. The ongoing pressures for change in the arena of student learning are inevitable in a rapidly changing society. Undeniably, the continuing advances in technology point to the need for the improvement of the quality of college and university teaching. This creates some of the most immediate challenges for academics to question the ways in which they teach.

By using phenomenography as the main approach of the research methodology, this study centers around one main question:

‘What are the students’ early conceptions of university learning?’

In seeking to answer this question, the chapter reports on the outcomes of a study, undertaken in a local university, in the city of Nicosia, Cyprus. In a more practical sense the chapter aims to share with readers the lessons learned in designing and developing the research and in doing so, share some practical knowledge that may proved valuable for future studies.



The concern about the quality of learning in higher education institutions is not new. However, in the present education scenery of ‘excellence’ and ‘accountability’ it may sometimes appear so. Whatever improvements we have seen in the 21st century, it looks as though little has changed in the quality of student learning. In recent years, however, some efforts have been made by researchers and educators to readdress this issue. The growing field of research on student learning has produced many suggestions as to what contributes to quality learning. One of these supports the debate that students tend to organize their learning behaviour according to the beliefs they hold when learning a particular subject (Entwistle & Ramsden, 1983; Marton & Saljo, 1984; Van Rossum & Schenk, 1984; Entwistle & Waterston, 1988; Ramsden, 1989; Marton & Pong (2005).

However, this argument still remains unexplored especially at the initial stages of students education on entering university. Indeed, ‘we still know little about the complexities of the educational beliefs that students bring to their learning in higher education’ (Quinlan 1999, p. 447). At the same time, such data could also be used to identify students whose conceptions are not in agreement with what the lecturers are likely to expect of them, making them ‘at risk’ of failing. Appropriate support could then be provided for these students (Meyer& Shanahan, 2000). The results of such research may, therefore, provide the educators with valuable insights, which can be used to review and develop the quality of learning specifically within the introductory courses.

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