Learning preferences and beliefs about knowledge – their relationship to Students' subject choices

Janis Jarvis

Manchester Metropolitan University

Students' preconceptions about the way certain subjects are taught and learned may lead them to select subjects which fit in with their preferred learning styles. For example, cultural differences in educational philosophy may be responsible for the over-representation of some ethnic minority groups in mathematics and science subjects. The present study hypothesises that students studying different subjects will have different learning preferences which may have influenced their decision to choose a particular academic area. The learning preference construct was measured by means of a questionnaire designed for this study which contained 70 questions relating to approach to learning, beliefs about knowledge, motivation and classroom interaction. 514 students studying for their Post Graduate Certificate of Secondary Education in 13 different subject areas and 192 undergraduates from a variety of disciplines completed questionnaires and individual learning preference scores were calculated.

It was found that among the PGCE students, those studying maths were most likely to use a surface approach to learning, believe in the transference of knowledge, be extrinsically motivated and participate less in the classroom, with English students at the other end of the scale. These results were echoed in the findings related to the undergraduate students. Although exploratory, these results suggest that there is a relationship between subject choice and learning preferences.

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