Investigating learning related factors as antecedents of first year university students' non-completion: a phenomenographic study

Russell, Susan Mary (2015) Investigating learning related factors as antecedents of first year university students' non-completion: a phenomenographic study. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This study investigates learning variables or factors considered to contribute to the preparedness of a cohort of 272 commencing business students to undertake their university studies and to stay at university. These variables were prior learning experience, approaches to learning and perceptions of the learning context, in this case of the core subject Business Communication. The study investigated how these factors related to academic preparedness and success and their impact on retention. It also investigated whether students changed their approach to learning and perception of the learning context over their first year, as evidence of transformational learning.

A phenomenographic methodology was used to reveal variation in the way students perceived and understood learning and their approaches to learning, and also to examine the qualitatively different ways students perceived the concepts, content and aims of Business Communication before their university classes began. Data were collected by survey as students entered university, and also by end-of-year interviews of 61 of those originally surveyed, so that evidence of the extent of transformations in these learning-related variables over the span of their first year experience could be determined.

The results of tests of a set of skills considered by academic staff to be necessary for successful study of business subjects were used as indicators of prior learning. These were the results of numeracy, literacy and information technology skills tests. Analysed data from the written survey provided students' approaches to learning as well as their perceptions of the subject, while students' end of semester results for Business Communication was used as an indicator of learning outcomes. The cohort of first year business students entered university with varying perceptions of the subject, prior learning experiences, knowledge skills and approaches to learning which impacted their outcomes as well as their decision to stay at university. The analysis of survey and interview results produced a wide range of 22 categories describing students' approaches to learning and 10 categories describing their perceptions of their learning context. The cohort included deep and surface learners, and an intermediate group termed 'emergent' was also identified and its learning characteristics described. Surface learners with pass and fail grades were of concern with respect to non-completion because they commonly held poor understandings of learning and learning approaches and inadequate perceptions of the subject. Furthermore, they had difficulty in reflecting on their learning and lacked the necessary language to describe their learning. Students with these characteristics were given the term 'precariate' in this study.

Learning-related variables were analysed using a bivariate statistical analysis. Positive relationships were found between the following pairs of learning-related variables: skills test results and final grade achieved for the business subject; approach to learning and grade achieved; perception of context and grade achieved; skill test results and approach to learning and approach to learning and perception of context. This study demonstrates that the reasons identified for first year non-completion are varied, complex, and often related, and highlights the need for a new narrative about retention: one that refocusses on learning factors and student preparedness.

Item ID: 40857
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: education; experience; learning approaches; learning; perception; phenomenography; preparation; preparedness; prior learning; students; study; university
Date Deposited: 08 Mar 2016 06:43
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1301 Education Systems > 130103 Higher Education @ 100%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9301 Learner and Learning > 930102 Learner and Learning Processes @ 100%
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