Having strived to ensure my emerging theory remained grounded in the data, it is perhaps timely and appropriate to review its place amongst the extant learning theories outlined in Section 2.1 and Appendix A. Sticking with the idea of the data remaining grounded, a good starting point might be Fig 11 in Section 4.3 in which participants and respondents associate learning. Rather than describing the act of learning, they tend to associate it with specific activities like writing, remembering or revising. Many of the most prominent activities associated with learning appear to be lower-order activities, as described in the cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) or at the unistructural (multistructural at best) level on the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982). In three separate studies exploring how higher education students or adult learners perceive learning, five (six) conceptions were identified:
Marton and Saljo (1976) suggested that students might adopt two different approaches to their learning:
"It's alright being in touch with the people, if it will come out some way in the exam. If it's just some extra bit of knowledge for them to have, then it's a bit of a waste of time."
We have to ask however whether this is an accurate portrayal of their learning experiences, or whether it only provides a partial picture. Higher-order activities or deep learning approaches are not entirely absent from the in vivo codes in Figure 11, but may simply be harder to articulate (or perhaps to photograph) and are therefore less prominent in the graphic.
Peeling away the layers in the findings allows interpretations in terms of other learning theories. We see aspects of behaviourism in the goal-oriented response of A:
"While learning it's not fun, but then when you get your results and you see that it's good, it's fun and it's paid off."The diversity of activities respondents discussed and the value they ascribed to experiencing different approaches (practical, experimenting, visual, digital) leans towards Gagne's Conditions of Learning (1965) where the complexity of learning demands different instruction for, and processing by the learner. When M noted the way in which a science teacher was demonstrating an experiment:
"She [teacher] was demonstrating principles to us through practicals so it would sink in a bit more and help us understand."
we get to see an example of modelling found in cognitive apprenticeship and in one of the few references to learning beyond school, N could be said to be participating in a community of practice:
"And you know in PE lessons, sometimes people aren't as good or as experienced , well when you go to a club outside of school, most of the people are at your level and you get to play with people at your level so it helps you get better."
The reality is however that although we may be able to spot elements of different learning theories throughout the data, codes and memos, no single theory describes or explains how students perceive learning ... nor should we expect it to. No single theory of learning is capable of addressing the myriad of learning situations distributed throughout a single school day with its multiplicity of events, interactions and undertakings, let alone the learning which takes place in the wider world beyond school.
Although an all-encompassing theory of learning may be elusive and inappropriate for these circumstances, Alexander et al (2009: 180) assert that "any comprehensive theoretical perspective of learning should be constituted of at least four dimensions that are continuously interwoven and interactive, represented by the what, where, who, and when of learning." So does the substantive theory offered in Section 4.8 hold up to scrutiny in these terms?
5 Discussion >