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Recent developments in self-report tools to measure learning strategies and related phenomena

Lonka and colleagues (2008) developed the MED NORD inventory for measuring medical students’ well-being and study orientations. It aimed to measure four domains of student learning: experiences of stress, anxiety, and disinterest; motivational (thinking) strategies; conceptions of learning and knowledge (epistemologies); and approaches to learning. The authors composed the instrument of scales from a variety of other instruments that had previously shown good predictive value, validity, and reliability. For example, students’ (motivational) thinking strategies and attributions were measured with items from the Strategy and Attribution Questionnaire (SAQ) (Nurmi, Salmela-Aro, & Haavisto, 1995). Students’ cognitive strategies were measured with two scales of deep and surface approaches to learning, for which items were taken and modified from Entwistle and Ramsden’s (1983) ASI and Vermunt and Van Rijswijk’s (1988) ILS.

The scales showed satisfactory to good internal consistency. Factor analysis yielded five overarching dimensions which the authors called ‘study orientations’. These orientations were related to medical students’ perception of their learning environment. The authors concluded that the MED NORD tool showed consistency and validity and judged it appropriate for measuring medical students’ well-being and study orientations. They emphasize that the MED NORD is a general instrument that can also be used with other student groups than medical students.

Another group of Finnish researchers took a slightly different approach. For example, Haarala-Muhonen, Ruohoniemi, Parpala, Komulainen, and Lindblom-Ylanne (2017) used an 18-item modified version of the Entwistle and McCune’s (2004) Approaches to Learning and Studying Inventory (ALSI), measuring deep and surface approaches to learning. The researchers took a person-oriented approach in clustering the students according to their scores on the various variables, which led to four study profiles. They found that both approaches to learning and study success in the first study year predicted Law students’ graduation time and the completion of the degree. The authors argue that measuring study approaches in this way can help promote first-year students’ awareness of their study practices and support the progress of their studies. In their view, individual students need tailored guidance in transitioning to university studies and identifying the demands of the study programme.

Items from the ILS have been incorporated into a tool to measure learning gains in higher education by Vermunt, Hie, and Vignoles (2018). The funder of their study, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), initiated a series of studies aimed to develop and test different kinds of instruments for their capability to measure university students’ learning gains at scale across a variety of disciplines. In their study, Vermunt et al. (2018) first developed a conceptual framework of learning gain. The framework consisted of four components and three cross-cutting dimensions: a cognitive, metacognitive, affective, and socio-communicative component; a view of knowledge and learning dimension; a research dimension; and a moral dimension. Importantly, these components and dimensions were viewed not only, or not primarily, as prerequisites for learning (cf. Weinstein et al., 1988), but as important outcomes of university studies, or learning gains. In other words, the ability to think critically, learn deeply, self-regulate one’s learning and thinking processes, engagement, etc. are viewed as important elements of the espoused aims of higher education institutions, universally around the world.

The authors adapted existing scales and created new scales that covered their conceptual framework as broadly as possible, and that were practical, user friendly, and had the potential for at-scale administration. They took scales from the ILS (Vermunt & Vermetten, 2004), a grit scale (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009), emotional and social engagement scales from Fredricks et al. (2016), academic writing difficulties (from Lonka et al., 2013), epistemological beliefs (from Schommer-Aikins, Mau, Brookhart, & Hutter, 2000), and adapted them if deemed necessary. The authors created two new scales on self-management and attitude to research. Moreover, they took items on reasoning ability from the International Cognitive Ability Resource ICAR (Condon & Revelle, 2014). With the use of data from a large-scale survey of 11 English universities and over 4,500 students, they tested the reliability and validity of the measurement instrument empirically. Most of the measurement scales turned out to be reliable, and they found evidence for the validity of the conceptual framework as well (Vermunt et al., 2018).

Endedijk, Brekelmans, Sleegers, and Vermunt (2016) developed a Structured Learning Report (SLR) that extended the field of self-report tools for learning strategies in three important ways. First, their target group deviated from the traditional first year or undergraduate university student population to include student teachers in the context of professional education, more specifically a postgraduate professional teacher education programme. Second, in their instrument they ask students to report on multiple learning experiences including studying at university and learning from internships. Third, they did not ask students to generalize and report about their normal or average study experience, but they asked them to report on six different but concrete learning experiences. The data from these multiple learning experiences were combined by the researchers in their data analysis. The findings showed that the SLR was able to measure student teachers’ regulation of their learning in a valid and reliable way. Moreover, individual differences in student teachers’ regulation strategies could be identified.

Recently Vermunt, Vrikki, Warwick, and Mercer (2017) developed the Inventory of Teacher Learning (ІТЬ), a 32-item instrument to measure in-service and student teachers’ professional learning strategies. The development took place in the context of a Lesson Study professional development programme for teachers aimed at supporting the introduction of national innovations in mathematics teaching in England. The items were grounded in qualitative studies on teacher learning in the context of educational innovations. The study drew on longitudinal and cross-sectional data from three waves of data collection from 214 teachers engaged in Lesson Study during one full school year. Three patterns of teacher learning could be identified in this study: meaning-oriented, application-oriented, and problematic learning. The longitudinal study showed the influence of teacher professional development on teachers’ use of work-based learning strategies. More specifically, the findings showed positive effects of Lesson Study on meaning-oriented and application-oriented teacher learning and a negative effect on problematic learning (Vermunt, Vrikki, Van Halem, Warwick, & Mercer, 2019). The ITL has already been translated into Finnish, Dutch, Swedish, and Chinese for use in research projects on the role of teacher agency in teacher professional learning in Finland, Sweden, the UK, and The Netherlands, and on teachers’ adaptations to educational innovations in China (ongoing research). Moreover, the ITL has been adapted for use in research on professional development in clinical leadership (Hofmann & Vermunt, 2017).

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