UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Children’s perception of the learning process Bickerton, Gillian V.


The present study set out to investigate children's perceptions of themselves as learners. An understanding of how learning occurs in children is of central importance for planning curriculum and designing instruction. Although recent research is providing a more complete picture of the learning process, what is apparent is the relative absence of any in-depth inquiry into what "learning" itself means to children. The objective of the study was to determine if there are stages of development in children's understanding of the learning process, such that children of the same age think in a similar fashion about learning and there is increasing complexity in understanding with age. A neo-Piagetianmodel of intellectual development (Case, 1985,1992) was used as a theoretical framework. A random selection of 83 children from a suburban elementary school participated in the study. The sample included children at the ages of 6 years, 8 years, 10 years and 12 years. These ages were specifically chosen because they represent the mid-points of the substages of development in middle childhood and beginning adolescence proposed by Case (1985,1992). Children's explanations for the meaning of learning were elicited in a semi-structured interview, modelled after Piaget's technique. Specific questions were designed to extrapolate children's conceptions of two related aspects on learning in terms of a definition for the meaning of learning and a definition for the "source" of learning, that is, whether learning comes from an internal or external source or both. The results of the study are based on qualitative and quantitative analyses of children's responses transcribed for this purpose. Scoring criteria reflect the levels of structural complexity hypothesized by Case (1985, 1992) in which children progress from simple conceptions of learning defined in terms of intentionality, in other words, learning as a behavioural act combined with an internal feeling or judgment state to more complex notions of intentional behaviour as they relate to the process of learning. In early adolescence, learning is defined as an internal state of mind, denoting a shift from concrete to abstract thinking. An interpretive understanding of the learning process characterized responses at this age level which is consistent with the postulates of the theoretical model. A statistical analysis of the responses showed significant differences between each age group. The complexity of the "source" responses also increased with age. In the early stages, there was a clear distinction between external and internal sources. For older children, there was an awareness of learning taking place in a sequential manner from external to internal. Interrelatedness of the two sources was generally recognized by 12 years of age. The pattern of understanding was age-related and hierarchical, consistent with theoretical predictions ( Case,1985,1992). By revealing common, age-typical patterns of understanding of the learning process, this study suggests that educational methods and materials should be consistent with children's levels of conceptual development. Such procedures would help solve "the problem of the match" (Donaldson, 1979) between a learner's developmental stage and instructional methods. The study presents an educational perspective on the metacognitive task of reflecting about one's own learning. If the goal in education today is to assist children in becoming independent learners, educators need to first of all understand children's conceptions of learning and then educate from the child's point of view.

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.