Edev_502 wk5

Week 5’s topic focussed on the teleological function of the process of learning. That’s a roundabout way of saying that the act of learning supposes a permanent change in the individual and that educators need to present processes that encourage that change. What should these processes target; motivation, the promotion of deep versus surface learning, challenge students to grapple with their epistemological methodologies, or something else?

Rather than settle on a descriptive answer, I chose to survey the field (within 500 words!) and set out some areas that influence consideration.

Educators who wish to influence learners’ cognitive, social and personal development must appreciate the factors involved in the matrix of learner orientation, societal need and learner cognitive potential. Their concern with learner motivation should be minimal and pedagogic content should be as rich as possible.

The relevance of motivation to teaching is debatable as it is unclear if types of motivation predict eventual outcome. Motivational orientation may be a strong factor in academic success (Komarraju, Karau, & Schmeck, 2009) or be associated with effort but not to academic outcome (Beaty, Gibbs, & Morgan, 1997). Increased levels of motivation arise because of good teaching, that is, higher motivation appears later in a course and is not a condition of study (Biggs, 1999). Motivation is brought to the educational environment and is initially under students’ control. Beaty et al. (1997) distinguish seven learner types and four student subcultures and their corresponding attitudes to and purposes for education. From the educator’s perspective, dealing with many motivational and learning orientation types in a single class is impractical. Furthermore, the work into epistemological development started by Perry (1970) and continued by various scholars since (e.g. Baxter Magolda, 2004; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997; King & Strohm Kitchener, 2004; Whitmire, 2004) points to differing cognitive abilities in students at various stages during their university career. Matching an exact teaching methodology to even a single cohort defies plausibility if not being ontologically impossible. Additionally, educators need to consider the ethical boundaries of their role in student interaction and question if the imposition of a teacher’s belief runs counter to the democratic principle of the student’s right to determine their own learning purpose and style.

As students elect their own level of engagement wherever the educator pitches the epistemological level (Beaty et al., 1997), the teacher’s default position should be to encourage students’ maximum engagement with college courses, and their duty is to create learning environments in which as much as possible there is a profound commitment to developingstudents’ knowledge. The key term is possible because a number of factors affect the degree and type of education that is plausible. Beaty et al. (1997) show the complexity of the teacher-student interface. The 3P model (Biggs, 1993) separates presage, the background characteristics the institution and the learners bring to the educational context, process, the content of study, and product, the outcomes of learning. Understanding presage characteristics helps clarify these possibilities. Broadly divided, three stakeholder positions can be identified: learner, faculty and society as shown in Table 1. These stakeholders’ interests in education fall along two dimensions, shallow and deep.

Table 1.

Stakeholders and levels of engagement in education


Level of engagement







BM 1~2

BM 3~4



enlightened citizenship

Note: BM refers to Baxter Magolda’s (2004) four-stage categorisation of epistemological development as characterised in Moon (2005).

The shallowest level of engagement is where students’ involvement with ideas is minimal and success in learning is evidenced by the qualifications they gain. At the other extreme, learning is seen not as the accumulation of information but about deep and lasting identity formulation as being in a profession (c.f. Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 2005).  These positions mirror that of society’s need for qualified workers and developed citizens. Faculty has a choice centering on the question: Is learning better when learners’ epistemological level is matched with teaching at that level, or does a limited epistemological expectation ultimately limit learners’ potential? Some evidence suggests that it does (Chan, Ho, & Ku, 2011), while others disagree (Bråten, Strømsø, & Salmerón, 2011). A more relevant question is: what is better?


Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2004). Evolution of a constructivist conceptualisation of epistemological reflection. Educational Psychologist, 39(1), 31–42. http://doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep3901

Beaty, L., Gibbs, G., & Morgan, A. (1997). Learning orientations and study contracts. In F. Marton, D. Hounsell, & N. Entwistle (Eds.), The experience of learning (pp. 72–86). Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

Biggs, J. (1999). What the Student Does: teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 18(1), 57–75. http://doi.org/10.1080/0729436990180105

Biggs, J. B. (1993). From theory to practice: A cognitive systems approach. Higher Education Research & Development, 12(1), 73–85.

Bråten, I., Strømsø, H. I., & Salmerón, L. (2011). Trust and mistrust when students read multiple information sources about climate change. Learning and Instruction, 21(2), 180–192. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2010.02.002

Chan, N. M., Ho, I. T., & Ku, K. Y. L. (2011). Epistemic beliefs and critical thinking of Chinese students. Learning and Individual Differences, 21(1), 67–77. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2010.11.001

Dreyfus, H. L., & Dreyfus, S. E. (2005). Expertise in real world contexts. Organization Studies, 26(5), 779–792. http://doi.org/10.1177/0170840605053102

Hofer, B. K., & Pintrich, P. R. (1997). The Development of Epistemological Theories: Beliefs About Knowledge and Knowing and Their Relation to Learning. Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 88–140. http://doi.org/10.3102/00346543067001088

King, P. M., & Strohm Kitchener, K. (2004). Reflective Judgement: Theory and Research on the Development of Epistemic Assumptions Through Adulthood.Educational Psychologist, 39(1), 5–18. http://doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep3901

Komarraju, M., Karau, S. J., & Schmeck, R. R. (2009). Role of the Big Five personality traits in predicting college students’ academic motivation and achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 19(1), 47–52. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2008.07.001

Moon, J. (2005). We seek it here … a new perspective on the elusive activity of critical thinking: a theoretical and practical approach. Bristol.

Perry, W. G. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Whitmire, E. (2004). The relationship between undergraduates’ epistemological beliefs, reflective judgment, and their information-seeking behavior. Information Processing and Management, 40(1), 97–111. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0306-4573(02)00099-7

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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