Factors influencing students' approaches to learning: a case study of postgraduate students at a New Zealand university
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Research on students' approaches to learning in higher education has consistently demonstrated a range of factors influencing students' approaches to learning. The vast majority of these studies have been carried out with British and Australian undergraduate students, primarily first year students. These studies focused on specific factors using models of inventories or questionnaires.As a postgraduate student, my interest in tertiary education and my working background as a staff member in a Chinese university has led me to the present research. From my point of view, knowledge is constructed rather than transmitted. Students have their own characteristics in the process of constructing their own knowledge due to their diverse educational and life experiences. Thus, it is not appropriate to categorise them in certain fixed stereotypes. For understanding their learning experiences and exploring the factors which influence their approaches to learning, it is necessary to have interactions with them in order to gain in-depth insights.This researcher used interviews on the basis of an investigation of the factors influencing learning from a sample of postgraduate students in a New Zealand university. The interview data was discussed with participants, other postgraduate students as well as some lecturers within the school. Common themes across participants were identified. In addition, the factors within each participant's interviews were presented to show the unique characteristics of the individual postgraduate students.The findings from this study showed that the influence of students' prior knowledge and learning orientations was important and this supports the literature in this field. The contextual factors which include lecturers, choice and integration of courses, and assessments were found to affect students' approaches to learning and responsible for the variability of learning orientations. Consistent with other studies, work responsibilities, financial problems and family commitments were found to have an impact on approaches. Lecturers' preferred teaching and research styles and students' expectations of lecturers' support were found to be significant factors with regard to students' approaches to learning.This study explored the factors that influence postgraduate students' approaches to learning, especially at the individual level. The findings have significance for understanding students' learning and improving the quality of learning. Lecturers might be aware of the diversity of students' characteristics and adopt appropriate teaching strategies for enhancing students learning. The school administrators and programme leaders might want to create a more positive environment for lecturers' better teaching practices. Postgraduate students in the similar situations may confirm the factors that influence their learning approaches and assume higher personal academic responsibilities for their learning.In my future study, the lecturers teaching conceptions and factors that influence their teaching approaches will be investigated for mutual understanding between lecturers and students. Alternatively, further study might replicate the present research with a sample of postgraduate student in my home country (China) to identify the similarities and differences.