Undergraduate and PGCE Learning Preferences

Janis Jarvis and Derek Woodrow,  Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Abstract: We looked earlier (Woodrow, 1996) at the 1990 UCAS statistics , and this paper looks again at UCAS statistics on the recruitment of students to HE for  1996 and 1997 which continue to show specific variations between students from different ethnic origins.  There is a very clear commitment of Indian and Chinese students for mathematics and IT compared to, say, the White student population.  Recent studies in Manchester (Woodrow and Sham, 2001) confirm the distinctive learning ‘preferences’ of Chinese pupils – a similar pattern to that found by Dunn et al (1990) in the USA.   This paper reports research currently underway on the differences in learning preferences of undergraduate and PGCE students in different subjects of study, confirming often expressed intuitive assertions that students at HE level express distinctive learning preferences according to their subjects of study. There are questions as to whether studying the subject ‘creates’ these preferences or as to whether students choose subjects because they have these preferences.  A 58 item questionnaire was explored through item analysis and a factor analysis and four strong factors identified: epistemological beliefs, preferences for participation and interaction, approaches to learning and styles of regulation of study. There are clear differences between, say, English, Arts, business, and mathematics students in these factors.   The study also explored PGCE students of a wide variety of subjects. The general ordering of students against the scales mirrored that of the undergraduates though the scales were foreshortened and tended to be at the ‘English end’ of the scales confirming the views of Woodrow that the shortage of mathematics students is in part a consequence of the preferences of mathematics students.  The confirmation of such differences in learning preferences raises questions as to how a standard school curriculum in maths and English can deal with these variations without discriminating.  

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