Students’ Approaches to Learning


In 1976, Swedish researchers Ference Marton and Roger Saljö demonstrated that students learn not what teachers think they should learn, but what students perceive the task to demand of them. Students using a ‘surface’ approach see a task as requiring specific answers to questions, so they rote learn bits and pieces; students using a ‘deep’ approach want to understand, so they focus on themes and main ideas.

My own take on this was to develop questionnaires assessing approaches to learning, the Learning Process Questionnaire (LPQ for school students) and the Study Process Questionnaire (SPQ for tertiary students) to assess students’ use of these approaches, with the addition of an ‘achieving’ approach, which students use to maximise grades. The following article summarises my work on this: ‘The role of metalearning in study processes’ (British Journal of Educational Psychology, 55, 185-212, 1985).

The Revised Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F), uses only surface and deep motives and strategies, and with total approach scores. It, with explanatory article, can be downloaded free of charge and used for research purposes as long as it is acknowledged in the usual way. Please note that the R-SPQ-2F is designed to reflect students’ approaches to learning in their current teaching context, so it is an instrument to evaluate teaching rather than one that characterises students as “surface learners” or “deep learners”. The earlier instrument had been used also to label students (he is a surface learner and she is a deep learner) but I now think that that is inappropriate. I have had a lot of correspondence from researchers who want to use the instrument for labelling students, that is as an independent variable, but it should not be so used; it provides a set of dependent variables that may be used for assessing teaching. This point is elaborated in the article:

Download Article and R-SPQ-2F Questionnaire PDF