A Phenomenographic Approach for Exploring Conceptions of Learning Marketing among Undergraduate Students – Conceptions of Learning

To acquire a better understanding of learning, researchers have devoted efforts to careful investigation of how an individual describes what learning is. The earliest research work into students’ conceptions of learning was conducted by Saljo (1979). In Saljo’s (1979) study, five qualitatively different and hierarchically related conceptions of learning were identified using a phenomenographic method; learning was conceptualized as: (1) increase of knowledge, (2) memorizing, (3) acquisition of facts, procedures that can be retained and/or utilized in practice, (4) abstraction of meaning, and (5) an interpretative process aimed at the understanding of reality. The phenomenographic method, which combines interviews and protocol and discourse analyses, is used to identify students’ qualitatively different, hierarchically related, conceptions of learning, and is frequently employed in this line of research (Richardson, 1999). Saljo’s (1979) categorization of the conceptions of learning has been supported by subsequent studies. A following study completed by Marton et al. (1993) also found similar conceptions of learning, for example, ‘increasing one’s knowledge’ (similar to Saljo’s ‘increase of knowledge’), ‘memorizing’ (similar to Saljo’s ‘memorizing’), ‘applying’ (similar to Saljo’s ‘acquisition of facts, procedures that can be retained and/or utilized in practice’), ‘understanding’ (similar to Saljo’s ‘abstraction of meaning’), ‘seeing in a different way’ (similar to Saljo’s ‘an interpretative process aimed at the understanding of reality’). However, in a study by Marton et al. (1993), a new conception, learning as ‘personal change’, was identified.
In Marton et al study, the first three conceptions, ‘increasing one’s knowledge,’ ‘memorizing’ and ‘applying,’ are related to a “quantitative” view of learning, as these conceptions place more emphasis on what is learned (the ‘what’ aspect of learning) . The quantitative view implies that learning is a process of accumulation or copying of new and accurate information in the memory. Therefore, these three conceptions are regarded as “reproductive” conceptions of learning. However, the latter three conceptions, ‘understanding,’ ‘seeing in a different way’ and ‘changing as a person’ are related to the “qualitative” view of learning, as these conceptions may focus more on how something is learned (the ‘how’ aspect of learning). The qualitative view implies that learning involves an active process of seeking meaning, leading to some kind of transformation in one’s view of things or of the self. Thus, these three conceptions are viewed as “transformative” conceptions of learning. Moreover, the process (the “how” aspect) of learning becomes more important than what is learned, as it will ultimately influence the personal life of each individual (McLean, 2001). Consequently, the quantitative view of learning is seen as a lower-level conception of learning, while the qualitative view of learning is viewed as higher-level. As Marton et al) suggested, the quantitative view is oriented to a focus on ‘the signs’ (i.e. on the learning materials as such), while the qualitative view is oriented to a focus going beyond the signs or the learning material to ‘the signified’ (i.e. that to which the learning material refers).
The conceptions of learning are related to educational contexts. Previous studies have found that students majoring in different domains (such as in nursing or engineering) or in different educational environmental contexts (such as in Taiwan or Nepal), express quite different conceptions of learning. For example, other than those revealed by previous studies, Tsai (2004) found two new categories, ‘testing’ and ‘calculating’ in the domain of science. Tsai (2004) indicated that these two new categories of learning might be identified in different educational environments or different learning domains. Therefore, an individual student may have quite different conceptions in different domains of learning. That is, students’ understandings about the domain knowledge still play a role in their conceptions of learning in the specific domain. The domain knowledge of marketing is different from the domain knowledge of other academic disciplines. The conceptions of learning marketing may also be different from those of other domains (e.g., science).
Recently, much marketing education research has concentrated on how to enhance students’ learning outcomes in the marketing discipline. Several studies have suggested that students’ learning outcomes are related to their learning styles. For example, Zeegers (2001) has illustrated that the deep approach shows a consistent positive correlation with assessment outcomes. Burnett, Pillay, and Dart (2003) indicated further that students’ learning styles are correlated to their conceptions of learning. If students’ conceptions of learning marketing can be carefully explored, it will assist educators to promote their learning outcomes. Therefore, the main purpose of the present study is to explore students’ conceptions of learning marketing.