Gijbels D, Donche V, Richardson J, and Vermunt J (eds) (2014) Learning Patterns in Higher Education, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

313 pages

ISBN  978 0 415 84252 5

This excellent text poses many uncomfortable questions to those with a responsibility for learning and teaching in University settings.  It is an edited text with contributions from writers from all over the world.  It is, however well edited, although several points are repeated throughout the text.  The reference to existing audits of students’ capacity for higher education courses appears time and time again, but because they are in different contexts and related to different aspects of the higher education student experience, the repetition is not tedious but it is reinforcing. The book is in two parts:  one, examining the dimensions of learning patterns, and the second examining the impact of various developments, which have focused on student learning needs and preferences. The concept of student profiling and responding to perceived needs is a very strong theme.

The awkward questions which are provoked relate less to one’s own understanding, but more to the extent one may feel learning and teaching is addressed across very large and complex institutions.  For example, issues are raised in relation to:

  • the components of learning, and the extent to which we support students facing these  processing strategies (Do students adopt deep  or surface learning strategies?, How are they supported to move from one to the other?),
  • students’ personal relationship to content,
  • students’ understanding and appreciation of regulation strategies (do they need direction or are they self-directed?),
  • students’ conceptions of learning (how we construct and use knowledge),
  • students’ orientations to learning (intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation)
  • whether individual  learning styles are stimulated by a range of teaching styles.

If, like myself, you have concerns over many of these matters, the text immediately becomes a useful CPD resource.  The need to audit students’ orientations and motivations and to adapt learning and teaching to meet the challenges the different profiles present opens a real ‘can of worms’ for anyone involved in enhancing learning and teaching.

This text does not provide a ‘how to..’, but it does provide considerable support in recognising the types of issues which need to be faced in these times of ‘massified higher education’.  In brief, the 4P model offers a conceptual framework to assist in the analysis of current practice.  Do we respond to:

  • Presage – student characteristics, social contexts, institutional contexts, professional contexts and teacher characteristics
  • Perceptions – student’ and staffs’  thoughts about  of learning, their expectations relating to the HE
  • Process – Students’ approach to learning, teachers’ approach to teaching and whether they match
  • Product – the expected achievement of specified learning outcomes?

The chapters do refer to a range of audit tools, and I found myself seeking these on Google.  Many are present in terms of evaluations of their use, but I was unable to find actual copies of them.  This is hardly surprising, but I was hopeful that the book would have led me to solutions rather than to questions!

Of course, there is the need for University CPD leaders to be sensitive to organisational culture.  Potential uses for the outcomes of the audit surveys are seen to be to give greater consideration to the grouping of students, to differentiate in terms of setting independent study tasks, to consider referring students to study skill clinics, and/or to provide learning enhancement opportunities appropriate to individual attributes and aspirations, and for tutors to act as coaches to learners as well, or instead of being simple transmitters of knowledge.

For many teachers, these concepts are not new – they have been at the core of many school teachers’ professional lives.  However, for University lecturers they represent new ways of working – and ways which meet many of the demands of the modern day.  I do believe that this text provides evidence for, and an underpinning theory to justify, new University based continuing professional development policies and procedures

Professor Kit Field

University of Wolverhampton