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Learning behaviours and successful outcomes in STEM students

Project leader(s): 
Elizabeth Ellis and Alice Gallagher

Since 2016 the Learning Innovation team has been engaged in a series of research activities designed to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying study habits and learning behaviour of OU students, in order to inform the future development of pedagogy, systems, tools and platforms. Potential student behaviours related to study were tested and validated in 2017, as reported in ‘A survey of the learning behaviour of Open University students’ (Ellis et al, 2018). Through a process of Principal Component Analysis, seven clear learning behaviours were identified.

These learning behaviours are Goal-setting, Time, Focus, Note-making, Digital-preferred, Help-seeking and Elaboration.

Although the 2017 dataset included students from across OU faculties, there was a preponderance of Arts students. Therefore, in Spring 2019, the survey was repeated with a small group of students from Science and Technology modules. Through an analysis of these results, including a comparison against previous samples, differences were observed between the behaviour of STEM and non-STEM students. The causes of these differences could potentially include the learning design of STEM modules.

With this in mind eSTEeM, the STEM scholarship centre, was approached to fund a project to focus specifically on learning behaviours of STEM students. The aims of this year-long project were:

  • To investigate the relationship between the learning behaviour of students and outcomes within the context of modules in presentation.
  • To gather learning behaviour data from individual students and cohorts from selected Level 2 STEM modules, to provide a baseline as well as a triangulation point for determining the relationship between learning behaviours and student outcomes.
  • To conduct an in-depth module mapping of each module using the emerging Learning Behaviour Framework, Learning Design Online tools and Nvivo.
  • To compare the learning behaviours of the 2020 cohort of OU students with their outcomes and establish correlations between these.
  • To rigorously test this by revisiting the 2017 student dataset (Ellis et al, 2018) and re-examining the learning behaviours of that cohort with their subsequent outcomes.

The project reached three conclusions, each of would have an impact on learning and teaching at the OU:

  1. That students who demonstrate learning behaviours could be likelier to progress.
  2. That relationships exists between Learning Behaviours, and that certain behaviours appear to trigger each other.
  3. That Learning Behaviours are present in the learning design of modules and could trigger specific behaviours in students.

Related resource

Ellis, E. and Gallagher, A. (2019) project poster (PDF)