November 19th, 2009

Teaching that Promotes Lifelong Learning


Can we teach in ways that develop students’ commitment to ongoing, lifelong learning? Yes, say the researchers listed below whose study explored curricular conditions and educational practices that influence the development of a lifelong learning orientation.

The study design is complex, not easily explained in a short blog entry, but its three-stage analysis of data is robust and adds credibility to its conclusions. The study involved 405 undergraduates enrolled in five different kinds of courses. One of the key measures, the Need for Cognition (NCS) scale, has been used extensively in research and has established reliability and validity as a measure of the commitment to lifelong learning.

The study found that teaching practices that encourage students to reflect—active learning techniques, opportunities for perspective taking, and the chance to positively interact with diverse peers—all developed these students’ commitment to lifelong learning. This collection of curricular components and educational practices had the same effect regardless of a variety of background variables. Here’s what the researchers said about this finding: “This suggests that the positive impacts on orientation toward life-long learning of pedagogical practices such as perspective taking, active learning, and reflection are not circumscribed by student characteristics or restricted to specific subgroups of students. Rather the positive impacts of such pedagogical practices may be achievable with a broad spectrum of undergraduate students.” (p. 352)

This is good news for teachers, especially those likely to read a blog like this. Chances are good that these curricular components and educational practices are already being used—this should increase our motivation to use them more. The commitment to lifelong learning does develop gradually and not necessarily visibly. But research results like this are promising. The lifelong learning orientation can be developing, even though we aren’t always able to see it on a daily basis in class.

Reference: Mayhew, M. J., Wolniak, G. C. and Pascarella, E. T. (2008). How educational practices affect the development of life-long learning orientations in traditionally-aged undergraduate students. Research in Higher Education, 49, 337-356.