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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

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


VAN STADEN, Louis  e  NEL, Carisma. Learning approaches and academic achievement among EMS-education students. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-2, pp.1227-1244. ISSN 2224-7912.

Irrespective of the 19 years of democracy in South Africa, which provided equal educational opportunities for school children of all races and genders, the throughput rate of students who are taken in at Higher Education Institutions is not satisfactory, due to certain problems such as lack of preparedness of students and staff, the nature of teaching and learning, the appropriateness of content, assessment methods, and the lack of professionalism of academic staff which students experience before and during their studies. A recent study by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) revealed that approximately 55% of the first-year students who enrol will never graduate (CHE 2013:15). One of the most prominent factors mentioned in the literature that may play a role in their poor academic performance is students' learning approach, determined by their learning motives and learning strategies. The broad aim of this study was to compare the deep and surface learning approaches of first-, second-, third- and fourth-year Economic and Management Sciences (EMS) education students with one another as well as among the various year groups, and also to the students' academic performance in the first to fourth year. The validated Revised Study Process Questionnaire (RSPQ) compiled by Biggs, Kember and Leung (2001:148) was used to determine the learning approaches. The questionnaire was validatedfor this specific study population by investigating validity through content and construct validity, applying a confirmatory factor analysis, while reliability was assessed by computing Cronbach's alpha coefficients. The study population consisted of the total number of students enrolled for Economic and Management Sciences in the Faculty of Education at the North-West University (NWU) Potchefstroom Campus. These includedfirst-year- (n = 62), second-year- (n = 79), third-year- (n = 57) and fourth-year- (n = 62) EMS education students. The following data analyses were performed: Frequency analysis of all the data collected by means of the RSPQ questionnaire; means and standard deviations; validity and reliability of the measuring instrument. Empirical results included statistical differences between deep and surface learning approaches for different year groups, determined by ANOVA's with p < 0.1 as the criterion for statistical significance and Cohen's effect sizes (d-values) to establish practical differences, statistical differences between learning approaches for different year groups, determined by t-tests with p < 0.1 as the criterion for statistical significance and Cohen's effect sizes (d values) to determine the practical significance of the differences. The Spearman Rank Order Test (correlation coefficient r) was computed to determine the statistical correlation between academic achievement and learning approaches. The p-value (p <0.1) was used as the criterion for statistical significance, while Cohen's effect size (r-value) was computed to assess the practical significance of the correlation between the two variables. Regarding the empirical results of this study, the psychometric properties of the RSPQ were addressed first. To investigate construct validity, a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was performed. Upon application of the CFA the two-factor model yielded a Minimum Sample Discrepancy divided by Degrees of Freedom (CMIN/DF) value of 1.80. A relatively low Comparative Fit Index (CFI) of 0.71 was found for the two-factor model while a Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) value of 0.07 with a 90% confidence interval of [0.06; 0.08] was obtained. The two-factor model satisfied the Goodness of Fit Statistics -CMIN/DF and RMSEA - consequently the questionnaire can be deemed construct valid. To pledge content validity, the researchers made sure that all the items in the RSPQ-questionnaire measured the two variables, namely deep and surface learning approach, and that these two variables were represented by a sufficient number of items. Three experts in the field of learning approaches were requested to participate in the evaluation of the content validity of the questionnaire. Other researchers also used this questionnaire with good results, which further indicates that the content is suitable for the purpose. Reliability was investigated by computing Cronbach's alpha coefficients. For the deep and surface learning approaches α = 0.77 and 0.72 respectively were found, which was an indication of a reliable measuring instrument. The results with reference to students'learning approaches indicated that the average for the deep learning approach was slightly higher than for the surface learning approach for the first- to fourth-year EMS education students. The differences between the two approaches for the first, second and third years were statistically and practically significant, but for the fourth years no statistically or practically significant differences were found. The differences between the different year groups indicated that the deep learning approach increased from the first to the second year, but decreased in the third and even more in the fourth year. The difference between second and fourth year students was statistically and practically significant (p <0.001; d = 0.80). The surface learning approach increased from the first to the fourth year, but these differences were not statistically or practically significant. A possible reason for this increase in surface learning approach could be that as the students neared the end of their studies, they were motivated to reach the end-goal in a quick and effective way that could be achieved by using a surface approach to learning. With regard to the correlation between academic performance and learning approach only the second-year students' academic performance correlated statistically and practically significantly in terms of deep learning approach. The surface learning approach correlated statistically and practically significantly but negatively with academic performance in the second year. Consequently, the higher the academic performance of the second-year students the less they used the surface learning approach. This confirms that the more the students understand concerning the modules, the more motivated they are to use the deep learning approach. Recommendations are made regarding academic support that needs to be provided by tertiary academic institutions.

Palavras-chave : Higher Education Institutions; Economic and Management Science education students; year groups; throughput rate; deep learning approach; surface learning approach; prior knowledge; integration; networks; academic performance; Revised Study Process Questionnaire.

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