Category: Professional practice
|Teaching and Learning Forum 2005 [ Refereed papers ]|
Lew Tek Yew
School of Business
Curtin University of Technology Sarawak Campus
Application of marketing concepts is paramount for marketing graduates as they will assume intellectually demanding positions in the industry. They are expected to demonstrate 'metacognitive' and other critical skills such as integration of new and existing knowledge/schemas, communication skill and problem solving. Developing deep approaches to learning is often claimed by many researchers to cultivate students' analytical and conceptual thinking skills. Hence, this study attempts to investigate the existing learning approaches adopted by marketing students and the impact of changes in teaching strategies upon the students' learning approaches and whether there are any significant differences in deep learning scores among students with different demographic profiles. Action research methodology and 'triangulation' was adopted to collect data from all the thirty two (32) students registered in the unit Marketing of Services. Data was collected through administering the Student Process Questionnaire (SPQ) developed by Biggs (1987), interviews and personal journals.
Initially, students were found to adopt a surface approach compared to a deep approach, while the students were motivated to obtain the highest grades to enhance their egos about half of their time. Changes were made to the teaching strategies throughout the semester which include amongst others the use of group problem solving exercises during tutorials, group presentations and assignments. The paired t tests conducted revealed a significant increase in the use of the deep learning approach at the end of the semester. However, this study did not discover significant differences in the deep learning approach scores among students from different demographic profiles. The results of this study suggest that marketing educators, through changes in the teaching strategies, can influence the learning approaches adopted by the marketing students.
Hence, there is a need to encourage my final year marketing students taking the unit Marketing of Services 311 this semester to adopt the deep learning approach as compared to the surface learning approach. This is absolutely necessary for these marketing students as they are expected to demonstrate "metacognitive" and other skills such as integration of new and existing knowledge/schemas, teamwork and team building, communication and listening skills, and critical thinking and problem solving required to advance in their challenging future career as marketing specialists. Hence, the issue is "are there any different teaching techniques to deliver the learning outcomes specified in the unit outlines which would better prepare students to adopt the deep learning approach? "
|Research Question 1(a)||What are the existing approaches of learning adopted by the marketing students of Curtin University of Technology Malaysia taking Marketing of Services 311 during week 1 of Semester 2, 2004?|
|Research Question 1(b)||Can modifications to the teaching style of Marketing of Services 311 increase the students' reliance on deep approaches to learning towards week 10 of Semester 2, 2004?|
|Research Question 2||Are there any significant differences in the deep (surface) learning scores among students of different demographic profile in terms of age, gender, major, semester, race, secondary school stream, their previous pre-university programs and previous workshops/courses attended?|
Hall, Ramsay and Raven (2002) have cited several studies such as Biggs, 1987a; Biggs and Moore, 1993; Gow et al. 1994; Ramsden, 1992 and Booth et al. 1999 to distinguish two common approaches to learning adopted by students. According to the researchers, deep approach is characterised by a personal commitment to learning and an interest in the subject and the student approaches learning with the intention to understand and seek meaning, and consequently, searches for relationships among materials and interprets knowledge in light of previous knowledge structures and experiences. The deep approach to learning is likely to result in better retention and transfer of knowledge and may lead to quality learning outcomes such as good understanding of the learning material and critical thinking skills. On the other hand, a surface approach to learning is characterised by an intention to acquire only sufficient knowledge to complete the task or pass the subject and the student relies on memorisation and reproduction of material and does not seek further connections, meaning or the implications of what is learned. Furthermore, students who adopt the surface approach to learning are likely to accumulate unrelated pieces of information for assessment purposes and therefore unlikely to experience high quality learning outcomes or develop appropriate skills and competencies.
Memorisation is often associated with surface learning approach. However, memorisation may be necessary in both deep and surface learning approaches as all learning assumes some process of remembering. To the learner adopting a deep approach, different forms of memorisation are a means to an important end ie. to create understanding. They are aware of the need to remember significant facts, principles, claims, arguments etc. and the process of making knowledge one's own rests in part on being able to remember important information. It also implies being able to make sense and make meaning from that information. On the other hand, students adopting surface approach treats academic texts, lectures, lecture notes and so on, as a mass of data that has to be memorised for recall and reproduction. However, they are not working for understanding the materials (Shale & Trigwell, undated).
Using students' experiences of learning as the focus of studies, some researchers have explored the relationship between approaches to learning and other variables in the teaching and learning context. Svensson (as cited in Mashishi and Rabin, 1999) discovered that students using deep approach studied for much longer and tended to perform better than those adopting a surface approach. Franson (as cited in Mashishi and Rabin, 1999) showed that students who adopt a deep approach to learning tend to be intrinsically motivated while students adopting a surface approach show extrinsic forms of motivation prompted by the fear of failure and the need to satisfy assessment requirements.
Figure 1: The 3P Model of Student Learning
The presage factors refer to those personal and situational (ie. institutional) that prevail at a point of entry. These could relate to abilities, personal values and the various elements of the teaching and learning context in the department in which the student registers. Process factors form the basis of the "learning process complex" which comprises the motives the students have for studying a particular course and the strategies they will use to pursue their studies. Product factors refer to both objective (eg. exams) and subjective (eg. satisfaction) measures of performance.
Motives and strategies combine to form specific approaches to learning as shown below.
|SA: Surface||Surface motive (SM) is instrumental: main purpose is to meet requirements minimally: a balance between working too hard and falling||Surface Strategy (SS) is reproductive: limit target to bare essentials and reproduce through rote learning|
|DA: Deep||Deep motive (DM) is intrinsic study to actualise interest and competence in particular academic subjects||Deep Strategy(AS) is meaningful: read widely, inter-relate with previous relevant knowledge.|
|AA: Achieving||Achieving Motive (AM) is based on comprehension and ego enhancement: obtain highest grades, whether or not material is interesting.||Achieving Strategy (AS) is based on organising one's time and working space: behave as model 'student'|
The 3P Model of Learning describes the way in which students' approach learning tasks and how they organise their time to complete them. Besides, Booth et al. (as cited in Hall et al., 2002) found out that although students cannot simultaneously adopt both surface and deep approaches to a specific task, their approach may interact with the way the organise their time to complete the task. For example, a student may rote learn in an organised way (surface and achieving approaches) or search for meaning in an organised way (deep and achieving approaches) . The model implies that students do not adopt deep and surface approaches to learning because they have deep or surface learning personalities but because different approaches are a response to students' learning environments. Hall et al. (2002) and Bonanno et al. (1998) found out that changes made to the learning environment which included the use of group problem solving exercises, group presentations and group assignments in first accounting subjects resulted in students increasing their deep learning approach. Meanwhile, Ball (1995) on the other hand found out that applying problem based learning strategies and real life exercises can promote deep learning approaches among students.
The Biggs (1987) 3P Model of Learning emphasised the importance of the students' perceptions of the learning environment towards their learning approach. To support this argument, Eley (as cited in Hall et al., 2002) found out that students' approaches to learning differed across different subjects within the same course ie. lower deep and higher surface approaches in accounting compared to business law.
Referring to the Biggs (1987) 3P Model of Learning, although educators do not have much control over students' characteristics, they do have control over the learning environment. Gow et al. and Sharma (as cited in Hall et al., 2002) have found several variables which will influence the students' learning approach such as workload, the nature of assessment tasks, teaching style, staff/student ratios, the structure of the course and lectures, enthusiasm of lecturers and tutors, generation of a personal learning context and provision of feedback.
In the marketing education literature, studies such as Wright and Lovelock; Wright, Bitner and Zeithaml; Hoffman and Bateson (as cited in Gremler, Hoffman, Keaveney and Wright, 2000, p.36) recommended that experiential learning exercises facilitated the development of quality learning outcomes such as teamwork and team building, integration of course concepts, communication, critical thinking and problem solving.
Marketing majors students also prefer concrete experience and active experimentation in their learning (Jaju & Kwak, undated).
Meanwhile, Kates (2002) highlighted the barriers to deep learning in student marketing teams such as the struggle for control in student teams, the ineffective ways that social loafers are dealt with, and the problems students experience in giving honest feedback to group members.
However, there is still little research that attempts to systematically examine the effects of specific changes on students' learning approaches to learning especially in marketing education. The discussion thus far leads to research questions 1 and 2 of this study.
In the Biggs (1987) 3P Model, the learning environment is only one factor influencing the approaches to learning adopted by students. The other factor is the students' characteristics which include students' demographic such as age, previous educational background, academic ability etc. Biggs (1987; 1993) argued that the extent to which students have gained life experience, their prior academic ability and general intelligence may influence their learning approaches. In particular, as students get older their deep approach and achieving approach increase whereas their surface approach decreases and students with lower intelligence are more likely to adopt a surface approach. This may be explained by the fact that learning is a demanding academic activity and therefore it is more likely that higher intelligence students can learn by themselves, whereas lower intelligence students may require more explicit guidance.
This study will focus on whether student characteristics such as age, gender, major, semester, race, secondary school stream, their previous pre-university programs and any previous workshops/courses attended influence the students' approaches to learning. This leads to research question 2 of this study.
Curtin University of Technology (2004a) suggested that surface approach to learning is encouraged by university teachers who demand mostly memorisation, rote learning and a focus on marks through assessment (which creates anxiety) ; overload the curriculum with excessive material (and focus on covering the syllabus ) ; give little or no feedback on progress, and little choice in methods of learning. Surface approaches are also reinforced when students come from school systems where attainment in the qualifying entrance examination is seen as an end in itself. Meanwhile, a deep approach to learning is encouraged by assessment methods that foster active and long term engagement with learning tasks; stimulating teaching which demonstrates the lecturer's personal commitment to the subject matter and stresses its meaning and relevance to students; clearly stated academic expectations; and choice in the method and content of study.
Curtin University of Technology (2004a) also recommended several ways to improve lectures to foster deep approaches to learning:
Research also indicates the following instructional methods help promote deep learning:
Good Practices in Teaching and Learning, University College Dublin, emphasises the roles of manageable workload, consistency of assessment tasks and the learning objectives, appropriateness of teaching methods and learning objectives towards encouraging students to adopt the deep approach to learning. [http://www.ucd.ie/teaching/good/deep5.htm]
In general, this study adopted the deep learning strategies as recommended by the Learning Support Network of Curtin University as highlighted by the above section on "How can I improve student learning in lectures" (Curtin University of Technology, 2004a) and "How can I improve student learning in tutorials" (Curtin University of Technology, 2004b).
The SPQ has 42 items and was answered using a fully anchored 5-point scale ranging from (1) never or only rarely true of me to (5) always or almost always true of me. To determine students' approaches to learning, the 42 survey were aggregated following the procedure in Biggs (1987). Students' responses are initially aggregated into the motive and strategy subscales for each of the three learning approaches ie. surface, deep and achieving (range: 7 to 35). Then, the matched motive and strategy subscales were further aggregated resulting in an overall surface, deep and achieving approach to learning score for each student (range 14 to 70).
To answer research question 1(b), several teaching strategies were implemented as per the following plan.
To answer research question 1(b), the SPQ was administered for the second time to all the 32 students of the unit during week 10 of the semester (Trial 2). The above plan of action was carried out throughout the semester.
All the 32 students of the unit responded to the SPQ questionnaire, resulting in a response rate of 100%.
This study adopted the "triangulation" process whereby multiple sources of ways to collect evidence was adopted and the results of the various ways were compared to check on consistency of the results. The observation techniques adopted were the closed questionnaire/student learning inventories ie. Study Process Questionnaire(SPQ), interviews with the students during consultations and personal journals.
|Scales||Mean||Std Dev||Cronbach alpha|
The predominant motive for academic performance for the students in this unit is the surface motive, that is the students' main purpose is to meet requirements of the unit minimally (mean : 25.66). The incentive to obtain grades to enhance their egos whether or not the unit is interesting is also evident about half of the time (mean 46.47) while the wish to actualise interest and competence in the unit is the less frequent motivator (mean : 24.09). Reliability analysis was conducted using Cronbach alpha for each of the subscales, resulting in the values exceeding 0.50, except for achieving approach. However, the overall value of the Cronbach alpha for all the scales is satisfactory at 0.8303. Pearson correlation coefficients were generated between each of the scales and there is a moderately strong correlation (r=0.503) between the deep strategy and achieving approach indicating that students read widely and inter-relate with their previous relevant knowledge in order to achieve highest grades and enhance their ego. The correlation between deep strategy and achieving approach is also significant (p=0.003) at the 0.01 level (2 tailed).
On the other hand, more students adopt the deep learning strategy (mean 23.06) compared to the surface learning strategy (mean 22.91). This finding is encouraging as marketing of services students need to read widely and able to relate concepts in order to be able to answer exam questions which often require them to apply the service marketing concepts in a cohesive and holistic way. However, it is surprising to note that the achieving strategy is not used frequently ie. only 22.25% of their time as they are final year students who should be able to maximise their time management skills and aim to get the highest grades.
The predominant approach to learning by the students of this unit is a surface approach. Students have a surface motive and surface strategy about half of the time (mean 48.88). These results are consistent with the research conducted by Frielick, Moelwyn-Huges and Kriel (as cited in Mashishi and Rabin, 1999) who found that students in the Faculty of Commerce at the University of the Witwatersrand were high on the surface approach.
Referring to research question 1(a), more students adopted the surface approach (mean 48.88) compared to the deep approach (mean 47.16) while the students are motivated to obtain the highest grades to their enhance their egos about half the time, whether the unit is interesting or not (mean 46.47)
The findings are shown in Table 2.
|Learning approach||Trial 1||Trial 2||Change in learning approach|
(Trial 2 minus Trial 1)
|* significant at alpha =0.05 (one-tailed)|
Referring to research question 1(b), the direction of the changes in the surface and deep SPQ scores are consistent with previous studies. The modification to the teaching strategies illustrated in this study attempted to encourage students to adopt the deep learning approach. From the deep and surface learning scores above, the students were increasing their use of the deep learning approach and decreasing their use of the surface learning approach. In addition, the increase in deep learning approach scores and reduction in surface learning approach scores are significant at alpha = 0.05 level. Hence, the findings of this study provide some evidence on the effectiveness of the changes in the learning environment in terms of teaching strategies in changing students' approaches to learning. This is in line with the suggestions of Gow et al. and Sharma (as cited in Hall et al., 2002) that the learning environment is a critical factor influencing the approach students' take in learning.
Findings showed that there are no significant differences in the learning scores among students from different demographic profile except that there is significant higher surface approach scores of science stream students compared to arts stream students.
Besides, the lecturer also interviewed some of the students and they commented that the project work provides an almost ideal "testing ground" for the development of deeper understanding of service marketing concepts and theory, given the real life exposure and experiences that they had encountered.
However, the lecturer also discovered similar interesting findings as reported by Kates (2002) through attending some of the students' meetings about some barriers to deep learning especially on the group assignment component of the unit:
Martial arts is a perfect example of how customers can demonstrate desirable behaviour. The customers have to attend all the classes since martial arts is an example of a high contact service/people processing service which requires both the instructor and the customers to play their roles effectively in order to ensure customer satisfaction and high service quality. To ensure customers understand and able to perform their roles correctly, the instructors should arrange an orientation program and also design comprehensive promotional materials which forms part of the service organisations' 'organisational socialisation' efforts.The above example showed that students exhibited one of the key elements of deeper understanding: the ability to make links between important concepts and integrate those concepts into a coherent, logical conclusion. Hence, research question 2 was answered that the teaching strategies and some assessment methods especially the group project have to a certain extent encouraged students to adopt the deep learning approach.
Though deeper understanding and applications of service marketing and theories are desirable goals to ensure marketing graduates have the desirable graduates attributes, there are still many barriers to deep learning that need to be addressed (Kates, 2002).
In terms of the Biggs (1987)'s 3P Model of Learning, the students' perceptions of the learning context and their approach to learning(deep/surface) depends on both the learning context and also equally important, the characteristics of the students which includes previous educational experiences from other institutions and their previous knowledge and experiences.
There are several limitations to this study. The sample size for this study is small ie. 32 students taking the Marketing of Services 311 and hence the findings may not be generalised to students taking other marketing subjects. This study has also not examined the effects of the increase in deep learning approach towards the improvements in the students' assessment results. Despite these limitations, this study indicates that marketing lecturers can influence the approaches to learning adopted by the students through suitable teaching strategies.
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|Author: Lew Tek Yew, Lecturer in Marketing and Management, School of Business, Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Campus Malaysia. Lew obtained his MBA with Distinction from the National University of Malaysia (UKM) in 2000 and the Bachelor of Business Administration (First Class Honours Degree) from the University of Malaya (UM) in 1995. He lectures the units Marketing of Services 311, Consumer Behaviour 102 and Management 100. This year, two papers on entrepreneurship and job satisfaction will be presented in international conferences in New Zealand and China respectively while another paper on leadership will be published in the Sarawak Development Journal (SDJ).
Postal: CDT 250, School of Business, Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Campus, Malaysia
Phone: +60 8544 3853; +60 198 857 639 Fax: +60 8544 3950 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Lew Tek Yew (2005). Adoption of deep learning approaches by final year marketing students: A case study from Curtin University Sarawak. In The Reflective Practitioner. Proceedings of the 14th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 3-4 February 2005. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/refereed/lew.html
Copyright 2005 Lew Tek Yew. The author assigns to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.