Changing learners’ beliefs about learning

by / Thursday, 23 April 2020 / Published in Instruction

Pay more attention to learners’ motivations for studying

Study patterns and experience of learning are highly affected and influenced by the very different learning environment of students. Beaty, Gibbs, Morgan (1997) argue the different learning orientations and their effect on students’ success and motivation. Orientation “assumes that students have an active relationship with their studying”, these orientations are academic, personal, vocational, and social contexts.

As educators, understanding students learning preferences and their different learning approaches while help in identifying their drivers to motivation. For example, the deep and surface learner has different motives to learn. Surface learners are extrinsically motivated by assessment requirements, their main concern is to pass and get the job done, while the deep learners are intrinsically motivated by their interest in the topic and to satisfy their eagerness to know more and deepen their knowledge about the topic (Atherton, 2011), in this context teachers can cater to both needs by adding engaging activities for example for the surface learner and more recourses for the deep learners.

Try to move learners from surface approaches to deep approaches

When Marton and Säljö (1976) asked students to read academic text Interviewed students about what learned and how they discovered that learners have two approaches. Surface approach: where an activity or assignment is undertaken because it is a set task. Learners devote the minimum possible time and effort to complete the task with no attempt to reach understanding. Material and concepts remain as unrelated facts with no link to personal experience. The second approach is the deep approach: Learners are interested in the topic and put the time and effort to understand the key concepts. They attempt to make a linkage between the concepts to have a more holistic understanding. New acquired knowledge is related and connected to previous knowledge as well as previous experience, in simple words trying to make sense of what they are learning. (Hassall and Joyce,1996).


Challenge learners’ certainties about knowledge

Knowledge is simple and a direct reflection of reality. In early years students begin to recognize the uncertainty of knowledge but see this uncertainty only as a temporary state, authority can determine the ultimate facts.

Later while they cognitively develop, students start to embrace the tentativeness of knowledge and believe that knowledge must be understood contextually and must be open to reevaluation.

The knowledge components’ as per Schommer (1990) are; The stability of knowledge, ranging from unchanging knowledge to tentative knowledge; The structure of knowledge, ranging from isolated bits and pieces to integrated concepts and; The source of knowledge ranging from omniscient authority to reason and empirical evidence; The speed of learning, ranging from not at all too gradual to quick the ability to learn, ranging from fixed to expanding (Mason and Bromme, 2010)

Remember that every time we are introduced to ideas that we disagree with we learning and we are getting smarter.


We all learn differently. I argue that teachers do not change the learning approach of their learners, however, teachers and educators can help learners identify their preferred learning approach and allow them to go out of their comfort zone and explore different areas that they are unaware of when needed. Moreover, I believe that we cannot generally label a learner as a deep or surface learner as his/her approach might change towards the studied courses.





Beaty, L., Gibbs, G., & Morgan, A. (1997). Learning orientations and study contracts.

Atherton, J. S. (2011). Learning and teaching: Approaches to study: Deep and surface learning. Retrieved from

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Marton F. and Säljö R. (1976) On qualitative differences in learning.

Outcome and Process. British Journal of Educational Psychology 46, pg. 411

Schommer, M. (1990). The effects of beliefs about the nature of

knowledge on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82



Mason, L., & Bromme, R. (2010). Situating and relating epistemological beliefs into metacognition: Studies on beliefs about knowledge and knowing. Metacognition and Learning, 5(1), 1-6. Retrieved on: 10- Feb-2020

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