In the business of learning : approaches to learning of undergraduate students in business

J.G. Hooijer

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 2 (Research NOT TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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Three approaches to learning are distinguished in the learning literature: a surface, deep and strategic approach to learning. The surface approach to learning is characterized as undirected rote learning, motivated by a fear of failure. The deep approach to learning is characterized as interested learning, seeking personal meaning in what is being learned, and stems from an intrinsic motivation. The strategic approach to learning is described as organized studying guided by an awareness of learning in context, with the intention to do as well as possible in the course. Although the deep approach to learning is preferred and stimulated by many educational researchers, the empirical evidence that this approach leads to the best results in every context in higher education is contradictory. The key research question in this dissertation is; What approach to learning leads to success for undergraduate students in business and how can students be stimulated to use this approach? The dissertation starts with a cross-sectional study among three consecutive cohorts of first-year students. The correlation between approaches to learning and study success of these students is analyzed. Approaches to learning are measured by means of the ASSIST questionnaire developed by Entwistle. Study success is measured in terms of the grades and credits for all first-time exams during one academic year. The analysis of the data reveals a significant positive relationship between the strategic approach to learning and study success and significant negative relations between the surface approach to learning and study success. No correlation is found between the deep approach to learning and study success. This is inconsistent with the broadly accepted idea that the deep approach to learning leads to the best study results. Reasons for this deviation are likely to be the specific disciplinary context of business. Secondly, a longitudinal study on the variability of learning strategies is reported. Many educational experiments are based on the premise that students’ approaches to learning can be changed by changing the learning environment. These experiments frequently yield opposite results, i.e. students increase the surface approach to learning in response to the educational changes. At this point there is no clear evidence for either variability or stability of approaches to learning, or for the mechanisms to change approaches to learning. Three perspectives on this issue are proposed: a personality trait perspective, a development perspective, and a contingency perspective. These perspectives are tested with a longitudinal study on the development of approaches to learning in two different educational environments. Analysis of the data implies that approaches to learning are rather stable over time, in line with what the trait perspective implies. Thirdly, a design-oriented study is conducted to develop a model that can be used in practice by student counsellors. This model serves as a guide for student counsellors to help students who are at risk for drop-out. It provides a framework to help students change their approaches to learning in order to improve their study results. Twelve cases are presented and analyzed with a specific focus on the design of the model. The effects of the counselling on the students’ study performance are analyzed. Finally, recommendations for the application of this model are given. Overall, this dissertation sheds light on the approaches to learning of students in business-related programs at the undergraduate level. One major finding is that the results of previous studies of student learning in other disciplines do not appear to apply to the discipline of business. In addition, the results give reason to claim that improving student learning (in undergraduate programs in business studies) should not be done by way of expensive redesigns of curriculum content and teaching methods. Instead, targeted interventions at the level of underperforming individual students seem to be more effective and efficient.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences
  • Romme, A.G.L. (Sjoerd), Promotor
  • Keizer, Jimme, Copromotor
Award date1 Jul 2010
Place of PublicationEindhoven
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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