Differences between learning facts and complex phenomena: a learningstudy in history based on the variation theory

Mona Holmqvist, Karmen Björkman, Malin Ohlin

    Forskningsoutput: TidskriftsbidragArtikelPeer review


    This study has been carried out as part of a project entitled “The Pedagogy of Learning” (Holmqvist, 2002) whose objective is to use theory and practice to extend our knowledge of learning and teaching. The study was implemented at the upper secondary school level and involved students in the first year of the social science programme. Two classes were evenly divided into three groups. The “learning study” model (Holmqvist, 2006) was employed and three research lessons in history were the focus of the study. The aim was to describe what students could potentially learn, and then compare this with what they actually learned with regard to critical aspects of historical knowledge of the learning object. The learning object was exemplified by the period when Skåne, the southern part of the present country of Sweden, became Swedish after a period of Danish rule. By examining different aspects of the learning object, the aspects necessary to bring about learning were clarified. The lessons themselves were analysed in accordance with Variation Theory (Holmqvist, Gustavsson & Wernberg, 2008; Holmqvist & Mattisson, 2008), according to the constituent concepts of discernment, simultaneity, and variation. What varies and what is invariant in a learning situation are important in determining what can be learned (Marton & Booth, 1997). Changes were implemented in how certain critical aspects of the subject were presented to students with the goal of improving the student learning outcomes. The results confirmed that the nature of what was taught resulted in different learning possibilities. One such element was the ability to identify with those who lived during the period studied. Creating a kind of compassion for one or more fictitious persons enabled students to discern more easily the critical aspects. One conclusion of this study was that an effective learning strategy for students is hard to develop because they try to focus both on understanding the learning object itself, and on gathering hints from the teacher about what will be on the upcoming examination (which constitutes a second implicit learning object). This is amounts to a ‘Guess what he is thinking’ game with the teacher, rather than developing a real understanding of the learning object itself. Another conclusion underscored the important role played by the developed understanding of the learning object in producing long-term or so-called ‘generative learning’. Our study demonstrated that there is a difference in the long term between decreased learning of isolated facts and increased comprehension of overall historical phenomena.

    Sidor (från-till)80-92
    Antal sidor12
    TidskriftProblems of Education in the 21st Century
    StatusPublicerad - 2010

    Nationell ämneskategori

    • Pedagogik (50301)


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