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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


THERON, Erika  e  BITZER, Eli. Student learning engagement at a private higher education institution. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.1, pp.207-220. ISSN 2224-7912.

Student engagement happens when students make a psychological investment in their own learning. They put much effort into learning opportunities that are offered and take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (marks and grades), but in understanding what they learn and incorporating or internalising it in their lives. Since student dropout rates in South Africa are high, student engagement is increasingly seen as an indicator of successful teaching and learning in higher education. Students are considered to be engaged in their own learning when they are involved in their work, persist despite challenges and obstacles, and take visible delight in accomplishing their work. The term also refers to a student's willingness, need, desire and compulsion to participate in, and be successful in, the learning process promoting higher level thinking for enduring understanding. Sometimes student engagement can be seen as an ambiguous term that can be used to recognise the complexity of engagement beyond the fragmented domains of cognition, behaviour, emotion or affect, and in doing so encompass the historically situated individual within their contextual variables such as personal and institutional circumstances and contexts. It can thus be said that engaged students do not only refer to engagement at the personal, but also at the institutional level, whether it represents in-class or out-of-class learning. Currently, many higher education institutions in South Africa are experiencing times of student-related turbulence and trouble. This situation emphasises the significant responsibilities the higher education system and its institutions have towards their current and future students. Such responsibilities include the obligation to provide an evolving workforce with affordable relevant knowledge and skills to become responsible employees, entrepreneurs, leaders and citizens. It thus seems important that higher education institutions promote conditions conducive to students' study success. The relationship between study success and students' engagement in their own learning has been well researched and authors have indicated its importance within many higher education contexts. What seems clear is that classroom teaching on its own and the transfer of information do not necessarily lead to study success and thus the emphasis is increasingly placed on student learning activities and a variety of learning opportunities; this includes out of class learning. Such a new emphasis has much to do with the characteristics of the modern-day student or the so-called "new generation" of students. The literature contains numerous indications that the current generation of students in higher education is very different from past generations. This difference is especially noticeable when one considers aspects such as students' informed use of technological advancements, their need for instant gratification, the vast proliferation of information and its availability, students ' social habits and the way they engage with learning. In this study the first aim was to gauge the need for student engagement at a selected small private higher education institution by involving all its current students and teaching staff in the research. The results were institution based and cannot necessarily be generalised to public higher education institutions. A second aim was to determine, according to their own opinions as well as those of their educators, the extent of students ' engagement at the said private higher education institution. The third and final aim was to ascertain how students can become more engaged in their own learning and how this may relate to increased student study success. A mixed-methods research design was employed to generate relevant questionnaire and interview data from students and lecturers. Three clear findings emerged: Firstly, changes in the characteristics and learning needs of students, also in private higher education, are real and require promiment attention; secondly, students in private higher education consider learning engagement important and require more and varied opportunities towards such engagement; lastly, the study established that private higher education students are more engaged in their own learning if their specific learning needs are met, indicating to educators in South African private higher education, but also elsewhere, that better provision should be made for the diverse needs of the current student body, particularly in terms of social and technological needs. Findings also point to possibilities for further relevant research on how to strengthen students ' learning engagement.

Palavras-chave : student engagement; private higher education; student learning; new generation students.

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